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Malmö Somalis suffer integration 'black hole'

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The Herrgården neighbourhood of Malmö. File: TT
15:20 CET+01:00
Somali immigrants in Malmö are "stuck in a trap" due to a dire local job market, creating overcrowding and low self-confidence, a new report said on Friday. Researchers urged city hall, and pensioners, to address the problem.

The Open Society Foundation published the report as part of a broader look at the Somali diaspora in Europe. It found that 80 percent of Somalis in Sweden's third largest city are out of work.

"Somalis are falling into a black hole in Malmö because they can't get jobs," report author Benny Carlsson of the Lund School of Economics and Management at Lund University told The Local. "(They don't get) opportunities to practice Swedish and meet Swedes, and are forced to live in crowded flats."

The situation fostered, Carlsson said, a "diminished overall sense of self-worth".

The report said Malmö authorities were not reaching out enough with the Somali community, with new arrivals not getting enough information to help them find work.

"Coming from a country with a very different economic and social structure has left many Somalis at a disadvantage when entering the job market in Sweden," Nazia Hussain, director of the Open Society Foundations’ At Home in Europe project, said in a statement.

On average, Somalis who move to Malmö have a lower education level than Somali immigrants in Stockholm, Carlsson noted. In Stockholm, 40 percent of Somalis have jobs -  double the Malmö rate. 

Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag gives a speech in Stockholm's Rinkeby neighbourhood. File photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

"Things are going better for Somalis in Stockholm than for those in Malmö," Carlsson said, but he added that Stockholm had a more buoyant job market. "There are more new arrivals in Malmö and they are competing for fewer jobs."

Referring to the report, Carlsson pointed out several positive findings. Among them, that Somalis value Malmö's religious tolerance, diversity, and relatively low cost of living.

"Most Somalis generally feel pretty safe and secure about having their home in Malmö," he said.

But the city's Somali population faces a number of related hurdles, he added. It can be difficult for newly arrived Somalis and other immigrants to find their way in the often all-encompassing and highly-compartmentalized Swedish bureaucracy.

"New arrivals need help with all sorts of things. They often don't know where to turn to get things fixed," he said, underlining that it wasn't just about the language barrier. "Many of the concepts and authorities are new too."

Carlsson said it was important to provide more information in languages other than Swedish. 

"There's no point in sending a five-page letter in Swedish informing them about an appointment," he said.

More Somali community-based organizations could also serve as a port of call for new arrivals, and could help its own staff develop leadership skills, which would serve them in future.

"Helping people start businesses can also help develop more leaders and role models. It takes a few to get things going, and then others will follow and provide hope," Carlsson said. "That allows them to break this vicious cycle."

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The report also suggested working with existing businesses and institutions to make sure the Somalis don't fall foul of discrimination. Some would-be employers might consider easing language requirements for certain jobs, for example.

Malmö Deputy Mayor Andreas Schönström, who is responsible for employment and secondary education, welcomed the report, saying that it offered "new insights".

“I am convinced we are on the right track here in Malmö, but believe there is room to improve our policies," he said.

Lund researcher Carlsson went a step further, saying that not only city hall but the man on the street could help out. Especially the old man on the street. Getting Sweden's burgeoning population of retired baby boomers to do volunteer work could do just the trick, he argued.

"They've had good careers, are well-connected, know how things work, and have a lot more time on their hands," Carlsson said. "They don't just want to play golf, but are still interested in being engaged. Helping immigrants could be a great win-win volunteer opportunity."

Even a bit of less formal socializing could go a long way, he added.

"It's a common view among Somalis that Swedes are polite and friendly, but they are hard to get to know," he said. "If you have Somali neighbours, invite them to dinner."

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