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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.

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IMMIGRATION

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.” 

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