Most refugees jobless after 9 years: report

Refugees arriving to Sweden face difficulties finding work, with 56 percent still looking for a job after nine years in the country, a new report shows.

The report, undertaken by the Stockholm’s County Administrative Board (Länsstyrelsen) and published on Monday, also reveals that refugees who end up in the Stockholm area have had better luck finding work in comparison to refugees in other parts of the country.

On average, 44 percent of refugees who have arrived in Sweden in the last decade were employed after 9 years in the country, while in Stockholm County the corresponding figure as 54 percent.

While more refugees manage to find work in Stockholm compared with elsewhere in Sweden, the group’s employment rate remains substantially lower than the 76 employment rate of the overall population in Stockholm County.

“There aren’t any specific goals for how many refugees should be employed, but these figures compared with those of the general population are naturally very poor,” Luiza Jastrzebska, from the County Administrative Board’s expertise, labour and refugee department, told The Local.

Even though the refugee employment situation in Stockholm is better compared to the national average, county officials believe more needs to be done to help refugees find work.

“We must improve considerably when it comes to creating opportunities for a quick establishment in Swedish society. The Stockholm region needs everyone who can contribute to growth and development,” county governor Per Unckel said in a statement.

The report also shows that less than 20 percent of refugees with some form of post-secondary education have a job which corresponds with their level of education.

In addition, the report reveals that refugee women arriving to Sweden have significantly greater difficulties than men when it comes to finding a job.

Refugees’ earnings also lag behind those of the general population, according to the study.

After eight years in Sweden, refugees who arrived in Stockholm County in 2000 has an average annual income of 135,000 kronor ($20,800), compared to annual earnings 221,000 kronor for the county’s population as a whole.

“Our report points out several problems, but we can also see a number of bright spots,” said Jastrzebska.

“For instance, income through labour is the most common form of income among refugees after a period of introduction, and the longer time spent in Sweden, the bigger the chances of having found work.”

Jastrzebska added that it’s difficult to compare Sweden’s performance compared to other European nations’ refugee employment levels for several reasons, including varying definitions of the term “refugee”.

“Also, this is a unique study. Usually, this sort of study measures employment among foreign-born citizens, not specifically refugees. That small group is often overlooked in studies,” she said.

According to Unkel, it’s important that more be done to get refugees into the job market more quickly “in part of the individual’s sake, but also for society’s”.

“We heading toward a situation where more and more sectors in society are suffering from a lack of competence and labour,” he said in a statement.

“Everyone is needed and the way to work and self-sufficiency for new arrivals must be shortened.”

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”