Roughly every other Somali immigrant in North America has a job, while only 20 percent of the Somali immigrants in Sweden have jobs, according to a report released on Monday by the government’s Commission on the Future (Framtidskommissionen).
The report, entitled “Somalis in the labour market – does Sweden have something to learn?” (Somalier på arbetsmarknaden – har Sverige något att lära?) and presented on Monday to Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag, was ordered by the government in order to provide proposals for improving the employment situation for Sweden’s rapidly-expanding Somali population.
The report finds that Somalis in the United States and Canada have had an easier time finding work in part because non-government groups with strong ties to the Somali community play a larger role in helping newly arrived immigrants look for work, find housing, and start companies.
In an opinion article published in the Expressen newspaper, the author of the report, Benny Carlsson of Lund University, explained that Sweden would be well served to let community-based organizations do more to help integrate Somali immigrants, rather than relying on public agencies to play a leading role.
“In Sweden, government agencies try to integrate individuals. This is problematic, not least when it comes to Somalis, who are often unfamiliar with or have had negative experience with government agencies,” Carlsson wrote.
“Would Swedish government bodies dare hand over some of the responsibility and resources to ethnic-based organizations focused on helping new arrivals or those suffering from social exclusion to navigate Swedish society?”
According to the report, one of the reasons there are so many unemployed Somalis in Sweden is that roughly half have arrived in the last five years and 70 percent have low or unspecified levels of education.
Carlsson explained that other factors such as language also have an impact on how Somalis are integrated in Sweden, but added that Sweden’s rigid labour market and labour protection laws also create “higher risks” for employees which amount to “higher thresholds” for Somali jobseekers.
Many Somalis also had some knowledge of the English language before leaving their homeland, something which made it easier for them to start a new life in English-speaking countries like the United States or the UK, compared to Sweden, where many had to first learn Swedish before entering the labour market.
The structure of the labour market in Sweden, which the report cited as provided limited access to “simple jobs” compared to the United States, for example, has also made it harder for Somalis to success in the Swedish job market.
Carlsson also cited Sweden’s social safety net which “lets people live at a decent level even if they don’t work, while the same can’t be said of the United States”.
There are currently 40,000 Somali immigrants in Sweden, according to SR, and the Migration Board (Migrationsverket) expects 20,000 more asylum seekers and accompanying family members to arrive in Sweden in the next year, making Somalis the fastest growing immigrant group in Sweden.
Awes Ahmed Osman, a Somali refugee who now works to help newly arrived Somalis adjust to live in Sweden, praised the reports proposal to give community groups more of a role in integrating Somalis.
“It’s a very good proposal to let Somali organizations manage information about how Swedish society works. There are big differences between how the Swedish system and the Somali system work,” he told the TT news agency.
He added that Sweden should take advantage of Somaliss entrepreneurial spirit by fostering local marketplaces in neighbourhoods with lots of immigrants, another one of the report’s proposals.
However, the integration minister expressed concerns about giving more responsibility to Somali community groups.
“As a complement, I think it’s a great idea. But I have doubts about completely handing the process of integration over to ethnic groups. It can be a dual-edged sword,” said Ullenhag.
“But the most important conclusion from this report is that we can learn from other people to become better.”