Crisis-hit Greeks flock to Sweden

As the economic crisis intensifies in Greece, the number of Greeks coming to Sweden in search of housing and jobs has soared, a leader of the Scandinavian country's Greek community said Tuesday.

Crisis-hit Greeks flock to Sweden

“It looks like there will be double the number of Greeks coming this year as last year,” Komninos Chaideftos, the head of the National Greek Federation in Stockholm, told AFP, noting that more than one million people are now officially unemployed in Greece.

According to the Swedish Migration Board, the number of Greeks granted residence permits more than doubled between 2010 and 2011, from 371 to 767, and appeared set to rise even higher this year, with 400 registered by June 1st.

As European Union citizens, Greeks can spend three months in Sweden without a residence permit, but after that they need to show they have a job or a way to support themselves to be granted legal residence.

“There are many, many more Greeks who have not been able to get a residence permit than those who have,” Chaideftos said, adding that the situation would

certainly worsen further after the summer when the seasonal tourism jobs in

Greece evaporate.

Already, he said, his organization was seeing homeless Greeks in Sweden.

“This is the first time we’ve seen this kind of Greeks, regular people, not substance abusers, ending up homeless in Sweden,” he said, adding that many young people desperate to find work were ending up on the streets.

“I have been in touch with around 50,” he said.

The problem, Chaideftos said, was that Greeks back home were desperate and willing to believe in a myth that Sweden was an easy country to get by in.

“They have this idea that Sweden is a place where you can easily find work and housing,” he said, noting that his organization had set up a working group aimed at informing Greeks back home and in Sweden about the way things actually work in the Scandinavian country.

“I mean, finding housing in Stockholm especially is a huge problem even for people who already live here,” Chaideftos said, adding that many highly educated Greeks were unable to land jobs they were qualified for and were instead getting stuck doing poorly paid unskilled labour.

“These people can’t pay 10,000 kronor ($1,400) for a small one-bedroom apartment when they’re making 30 to 40 kronor an hour,” he said.

His organization has also recently started Swedish classes for Greeks who do not have residence permits and are therefore not entitled to the free classes offered by Swedish municipalities, in a bid to help them enter society and find work.

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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. 

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