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Five myths about Sweden's refugee crisis

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Refugees at the Malmö branch of Sweden's Migration Agency. Photo: TT
11:53 CET+01:00
UPDATED: Sweden's reputation for openness is being questioned as it tightens asylum rules and border controls. But how much are attitudes really changing? Here's a truth check on some of the more common misperceptions about how the refugee crisis is affecting the Nordic country.

1. Sweden is closing its borders

Just because Sweden decided to reinstate border controls, it doesn't mean it's closing its borders. 

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven did announce in a radical move on November 24th that Sweden was tightening its asylum rules significantly, saying the country was no longer able to accept as many refugees as it had been. It was time, he said, for other EU countries to step up and help out.

However, he said this was not a decision easily made and his deputy Åsa Romson was tearful when she spoke about the new rules. It does not mean Sweden has abandoned its humanitarian principles, simply that it was no longer able to go it alone, with the country expected to take in up to 190,000 refugees in 2015.

Nor does it mean that Sweden has closed its borders. Those who have valid ID documents and are allowed to legally travel into Sweden with a passport or other valid travel documents alone will still be able to do so.

And those who are eligible to seek asylum will still have their applications considered as long as they can provide proof of their identity. However, it is true that Sweden will only accept the minimum level of people it is obligated to according to international conventions.

The decision to reinstate border checks is temporary and valid for 10 days, but can be renewed for up to six months under Schengen regulations on free movement.

Swedish police officials have said that they are preparing to have the controls in place for six months, though Sweden has made no such request yet.

2. Swedes no longer like refugees 
 
A poll published on November 26th found that seven out of ten Swedes backed the government's tightening of asylum rules, ranging from people calling the new measures "fairly good" to "very good".
 
However, it does not mean that support for refugees in principle is waning in Sweden. Up until very recently, when local authorities began warning they could no longer manage, surveys were showing very different results. And support remains high for helping those asylum seekers who are in the country.
 
 
A poll from earlier in November found that 41 percent of respondents said Sweden should grant fewer residency permits to refugees -- compared to just 29 percent in September.
 
Meanwhile a quarter wanted the number to remain at current levels, while 17 percent wanted an increase and 16 percent were undecided. 
 
Sweden, a country of 9.8 million people, has taken more refugees as a proportion of its population than any other country in Europe, and expects to receive up to 190,000 asylum seekers this year – more than double the 80,000 it took in last year.
 
3. Sweden Democrats are the biggest party now 

One pollster, YouGov, has put the Sweden Democrats as the largest party, with 24.8 percent of those polled in October saying they would vote for them, compared 23.2 percent for the Social Democrats and 21.8 percent for the Moderates. 

However, other polls, including Ipsos and TNS Sifo, put the Sweden Democrats in third place, on about 17 percent. The most recent survey, on November 26th, conducted by Novus on behalf of TV4 suggested 20.7 percent supported them (but still left it in third place after the Social Democrats and the Moderates).

If that figure was repeated in an election, it would certainly strengthen their position in parliament and prevent either the centre-right or centre-left from forming a majority, but mainstream parties would together still be supported by eight out of ten voters.

Nonetheless, it's worth noting that the support for the party has increased dramatically since the elections last year, when it pulled in 12.9 percent of the votes. 

4. Refugees are being attacked across the country 
 
While it's true that there have been some refugee housing torched in Sweden recently, it's only a tiny proportion of the number of centres in the country.
 
Considering there are over 100,000 refugees who came to Sweden this year alone, the occasional attack is far from representative of the current attitude towards refugees.
 
One of the bigger concerns for refugees in Sweden has been settling into life in Scandinavia. 
 
One Syrian who arrived Östersund in rural northern Sweden earlier this year said he loved his new town, but wasn't such a fan of the struggle to find accommodation. 

Story continues below…

 
"This city is a small city and a quiet city, and the people here are really, really nice and I like it, but it's a big problem to find an apartment," he told The Local
 
5. Refugees won't get work and can't integrate 
 
Many refugees want nothing more to get a foot into the job market - a crucial step towards integrating into a new country.

Yet by one important measure Sweden is one of the worst countries in the OECD at getting immigrants into the labour market. Sweden has the largest gap in employment rates between native-born people and immigrants in the OECD. It is particularly bad at integrating immigrants with low skills.

Sweden has spent lots of money on trying to turn this around, with free language training and programmes to help them match their skills with the labour market. 

But looked at from another angle, any individual refugee is still more likely to find employment in Sweden than in many other countries, simply thanks to Sweden's strong economy. The unemployment rate for foreign-born people in Sweden is 21.8 percent, compared to figures in the mid-thirties in Greece or Italy.

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