SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

‘Sweden can’t afford to lose clever immigrants’

Sweden can't afford to keep discriminating against those living in the suburbs and thereby missing out on the payback of years of investment in education and skills, journalist Carlos Rojas argues.

'Sweden can't afford to lose clever immigrants'

The story of my group of friends is not unique among those groups of friends raised in a “million homes” area (miljonprogrammet, referring to the one million homes that were built in the 60s and 70s to house Sweden’s increasing population).

We were six, all born in Sweden, or arriving as toddlers. All except myself hold university degrees, and Sweden has thus invested in our healthcare, pre-school, elementary school, high school and university.

Now half of us are gone, emigrated. For a while I was the last one left, but two have returned. The other three will most likely stay outside Sweden’s borders and thus be resources lost to our society.

They are Swedes, but were never viewed as such. At least not in the same way as other Swedes. At least not by others. It led to a complex self image, but above all to the situation that they didn’t get the jobs they, according to all statistics, should have got considering their academic achievements.

We in Sweden have long sought to simplify the higher unemployment rate among immigrated citizens, an issue which has resurfaced after Statistics Sweden’s (Statistiska Centralbyrån – SCB) labour market report for the second quarter that was released recently. I would argue that this is a form of discrimination which has much more to do with where you live than what has been admitted.

In Botkyrka municipality, south of Stockholm, this becomes apparent if you compare the areas Fittja and Tullinge.

The employment rate among women born abroad is 42 percent in Fittja, and for women born in Sweden in the same area it is 52 percent. In Tullinge on the other hand, it is as high as 60 percent for women born abroad, and 72 percent for women born in Sweden.

The figures show that while international background plays a part, where you live is at least as important.

It is unsustainable that Swedes are treated differently and many times disrespectfully because of their national and international roots. The effect of this won’t be any London riots. The effect will be that people will close up shop and leave.

The contempt isn’t as explicit here, and when for example a police officer calls someone in Rosengård (an area in Malmö with a high percentage of immigrants) “apajävel” (litterally “damn ape”) it results in a form of hullabaloo that signals that society doesn’t accept contempt. That makes it difficult for violence to escalate.

But to exclude people from the jobs market because they are who they are, is also a form of contempt. And no one puts their foot down against that.

When there are no signs indicating change, many will look to the alternative of finding a society that suits them better. My friends who’ve moved abroad have stayed there much because they are seen as resources there, in countries as diverse as Chile, Italy and China.

In a clip SVT news programme “Aktuellt”, broadcast in connection with the SCB report they interviewed a guy from Rinkeby (one of the “million homes” areas outside Stockholm). I will never forget his words: “I want to make Rinkeby a better place. Try to make people understand that we are just like everyone else, and can get jobs like everyone else, like ordinary people.”

Ordinary people. Should he have to take responsibility to be seen and treated as an ordinary human being? Or should those with power over his life by having the opportunity to hire him do so?

For me the answer is obvious. Because I have a sound view of human beings, but also because I have a knowledge of basic maths and I can read forecasts. Such as the one from SCB which shows that almost 10 percent of Sweden’s population in the year 2060 will be older than 80 years, compared with slightly over five percent today. All this during a prevailing population increase.

If we don’t all copulate freely we will surely need to increase immigration during the coming half century. And if we can’t even get the ones that have immigrated to stay, how will we then get others to want to come?

There is no alternative. We have to change our approach now.

Carlos Rojas is a journalist and the founder of an initiative which aims for change in the “Million homes” areas of Swedish cities. He was also one of the founders of prize-winning magazine Gringo which had some impact in the Swedish debate in the mid-2000s.

This article was originally published in Swedish in the Aftonbladet daily. English translation by The Local.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

__

Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

SHOW COMMENTS