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IMMIGRATION

‘Immigrant areas have fewer social problems’

Some areas of Sweden with low levels of immigration have more pronounced social problems than towns with higher numbers of immigrants, according to the conclusions of a new report based on the UN Human Development Index.

'Immigrant areas have fewer social problems'

“The 20 best towns have more immigrants than average, that is to say 14.4 percent. There is no tendency whatsoever for towns with high numbers of immigrants to have worse results than others,” said Stefan Fölster, head of the Reform Institute which published the new report.

In a debate article in the Dagens Nyheter daily, Fölster pointed out that central Sweden has regions where unemployment, welfare-dependency and private credit problems are close to the levels of Greece and Spain.

Fölster noted that many of these areas also have lower levels of immigration.

“In actual fact the integration problems which are commonly associated with immigrant areas are at least as common in areas which have fewer immigrants,” Fölster.

Fölster exemplified Munkfors in central Sweden where youth unemployment tops 36 percent, and Töreboda in western Sweden where 21 percent are subject to Enforcement Agency (Kronofogden) orders for non-payment of debts.

The development index used in the report is based on the UN Human Development Index with 18 different categories adapted to Sweden.

The five main categories considered are: schools, employment, health, money and ‘hopelessness and alienation’.

Several areas of Sweden which have significant immigrant populations performed well in the index, including small regional towns such as Älmhult and Mullsjö in southern Sweden.

“The conclusion is by no means that the integration problems for some immigrant groups are negligible. It is instead we see that there are many Swedes in towns with few immigrants whose ‘integration problems’ are at least as serious as among some immigrant groups,” Fölster said.

Furthermore the survey indicated that mental health problems, caused for example by depression and bullying, are less common among 16-year-old’s living in areas with above average numbers of immigrants.

Fölster argued that the surprising results indicated that the debate about Sweden’s social problems needs to be broadened from its immigrant focus.

“A pseudo-debate about the effects of immigration is allowed to hide the fact that Sweden has large and growing social problems in areas with few immigrants.”

Fölster, who was previously employed as chief economist at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv), proposed a range of measures to address the “high thresholds and the lack of enterprise” that exists in many areas.

Some of these areas are post-industrial towns where factories have closed shop and the population has moved away to larger urban areas, such as Söderhamn in northern Sweden.

Fölster however argued that there are several successful examples of regeneration in towns which suffered a similar fate, such as Åtvidaberg and Hallstahammar in central Sweden.

The report observed that the problems in many Swedish towns are caused by a number of mechanisms, including falling property prices, high construction costs and poor competitiveness on the wage market.

Fölster also argued that the Swedish system of municipal equalization in which tax revenues are re-allocated from richer to poorer areas, is negative for growth in poorer localities.

He furthermore called for a more open and honest debate on the challenges facing many deprived areas of Sweden.

“Sweden’s political parties are very reluctant to discuss these fundamental mechanisms, which has opened a pseudo-debate about the impact of immigrants.”

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

Follow Peter on Twitter here.

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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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