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Iraqis bring wealth - and jobs - to Sweden

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10:43 CEST+02:00
The cost of receiving asylum seekers in Sweden is set to rise to more than 12 billion kronor by 2010, with the large number of Iraqi refugees a major reason for the rise. But far from being a drain on resources, many Iraqi immigrants are bringing money - and jobs - to Sweden, as Rami Abdelrahman reports in the first of a series of reports on foreign influences on Sweden.

Nazar Fiaely made his way to Sweden from Iraq in 1994. Together with his wife the 42-year-old businessman owns five different companies that directly employ around 50 Swedes. The companies include a supermarket chain in Stockholm and Katrineholm, as well as an electricity utilities factory whose products are mass produced by Volvo and Scania.

The success of people like Fiaely gives the lie to the general stereotype that new immigrants are a burden on the taxpayer. Many of these immigrants have become huge taxpayers themselves, bringing in foreign cash and creating job opportunities in Sweden.

Fiaely told The Local that his companies employed all of his brothers and their spouses, in addition to as many local Swedes as possible. His employment strategy is based on integrating locals with newcomers, who learn about how things are done in Sweden and exchange previous experiences in the process.

The newcomers learn how to pay taxes, start their own companies and increase productivity. Fiaely says that he helped his first company grow in value from 11 to 18 million kronor ($1.5-2.5 million). He has recently expanded his business to England, Russia, and the Middle East.

"It all comes down to learning the language and taking the initiative on behalf of new immigrants - businesspeople and workers alike. They have to broaden their scope by not restricting themselves to investing in taxi cabs or pizzerias.

"Sweden has many opportunities in the production industries, especially if the newcomers introduce industrial practices foreign to Sweden, " he says.

The recent influx of Iraqis has seen many millionaires came to Sweden, the majority of whom are living off the interest from their bank accounts and do not know where to invest their millions, according to Fiaely.

"Sweden is attractive to those businessmen, because unlike other western nations it offers many facilities for start-ups. I've dealt with many doctors and engineers who went into the service sector as soon as they came here because of all the facilities provided by the state," he says.

"They end up employing a larger number of immigrant Iraqis, and support a wider network of beneficiaries."

The cost to the Swedish state of receiving asylum seekers is set to rise to more than 12 billion kronor by 2010. Part of this increase is due to a relaxation of Swedish laws. But the rising numbers of Iraqi refugees are also a major contributory factor.

Some 9,700 Iraqis came to Sweden in 2006, compared to only 2,900 the previous year. More Iraqis moved to Södertälje alone last year than to the entire United States.

Fiaely criticizes increasing social aid to immigrants, which makes them more dependent on the state. Instead he suggests that the state should pay for internship programmes for immigrants in Swedish companies.

However, many immigrants - whether they are refugees granted asylum or people reunited with family members - find it difficult to gain access to mainstream training programmes.

Those who are able to start their own businesses often have difficulty raising capital because they have not had time to prove themselves creditworthy in Sweden. And the same goes for those who bring in capital, according to Michael Williams, chairman of FARR (the Swedish network of refugee and asylum support groups).

"It is a misconception that immigrants or refugees are necessarily state-dependent. People flee conflicts regardless of their economic status. In fact, in order to come to Sweden immigrants need basic capital, which they either raise through borrowing from relatives or have saved for this particular purpose," he says.

Behind a money-transfer counter in a supermarket in Hudiksvall , the Iraqi owner of the shop, Muhammed Jalal, couldn't agree more. He says that his countrymen send and receive money every day to and from the Middle East.

"Some save money here to send to families living in Iraq or refugees in Jordan, but also many of the Iraqis here have investments in the Middle East and receive monthly incomes from abroad," he says, adding that many of the larger sums are transferred through banks in the Middle East, Switzerland and other nations. He deals with small sums that do not exceed 20,000 kronor per transfer.

The global money-transfer conglomerate Western Union says there are no statistics at this point, but an increasing demand in money transfers to and from Iraq have led the company to open new offices in the country.

Professor Jan Ekberg, coordinator at the Centre of Labour Market Policy Research at Växjö University, is however sceptical about the effect of these transactions on the national economy as a whole.

"The yearly positive or negative income effects have at most been 1-2 percent of gross national product. A change in the immigrants' employment rate by 1 percentage point will change their yearly net contribution to the public sector by 0.1 percent of gross national product," he says.

Rami Abdelrahman

The World in Sweden Series:The Local is compiling a series of articles on how people and cultures from around the world are influencing Swedish life. Coming soon - how English is changing the Swedish language.

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