‘Undocumented migrants are not the problem’

Hunting down undocumented immigrants like animals is immoral and a waste of police resources, argues socialist weekly Arbetaren’s editor-in-chief Daniel Wiklander, who would like the Swedish companies who exploit vulnerable foreign-born workers to be held responsible.

'Undocumented migrants are not the problem'

Swedish police are using ever more resources in the hunt for undocumented immigrants. But as it is illegal to stop a person without reasonable grounds for suspicion, the police are making up reasons.

The end result is racial profiling, which is undignified for any country that respects the rule of law.

The project entitled Reva, which stands for Rättssäkert och effektivt verkställighetsarbete (‘Legal and effective execution of policy’), uses rewritten methods to find and deport people who are in Sweden without permission.

Reva exemplifies how a state authority can come up with new methods to reach its goals without technically violating the letter of the law.

The police have raided the street market on Möllevångstorget square in Malmö alongside officials from the Tax Authority (Skatteverket), for example, or stopped people cycling through the city for traffic violations – but in actual fact, the aim has been to check people’s identification documents.

There are cases of the police breaking up weddings with pepper spray to get at undocumented immigrants. They have arrested teenagers out on leave from psychiatric care, which they were receiving in the first place because they were so terrified of being deported that it affected their mental health.

Reva is a success in as far as it has done what it set out to do.

Deportations are up by 25 percent. The pilot project was followed by a national rollout – and all this is taking place with the EU’s support.

Reva gets funding from the European Return Fund, which the union set up within the €676-million ($890 million) budget programme “Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows”.

Since January, Reva has been tried out in Stockholm, which has become all the more obvious these last few weeks for those of us who live here. Instead of targeting cyclists, the police are targeting commuters in the city’s public transit system.

Citizens have reacted by plotting their whereabouts – either on the Facebook page Reva Spotter but also on Twitter.

The main tactic is to target people who are jumping the turnstiles without paying for a ticket, which gives the police the opportunity to check people’s ID documents and residency permits.

Of course, it would be much easier for the police to simply stop anyone who looked like they weren’t European – but that is not allowed.

”We have to have a reason to check ID documents and residency permits,” a Stockholm police officer told our newspaper Arbetaren in December.

Well, yes, of course they do, because what would we end up with if they didn’t need a reason?

We’d end up with a police state.

The fact is – the police are engaging in a type of racial profiling, even though they use other qualifiers like jumping the turnstiles in Stockholm or cycling in Malmö with a broken headlight to stop people.

What we have on our hands is a superb example of creative police work – how to figure out new methods to reach a specific goal without technically going against the letter of the law.

Swedish police officers do not, like their British colleagues do, have the right to stop and search anyone they like without having any suspicion of crime.

So Swedish police have to make up reasons.

That this is taking place in the context of a project that claims to respect the law is absurd. Furthermore, to pump resources into a crime as petty as jumping the turnstiles is an abuse of police powers, which in the long run risks damaging the respect that people feel for democracy.

It does not respect the law.

Police work is all about prioritizing. A person with power has decided that hunting down undocumented immigrants should be top priority right now. As a Swedish citizen I have to ask – in what way does the presence of undocumented immigrants in the country pose a problem for me?

For the undocumented immigrant, however, there are big problems in living and working in Sweden without a permit.

Apart from the constant fear of arrest and deportation, they have to navigate many things that the rest of us take for granted – healthcare and education, for example.

Simple things like buying a train ticket – ironically, this also applies to a one-way ticket on the Stockholm metro – cannot be done today without possessing a personal identification number (personnummer).

Undocumented immigrants work under the table for pitiful salaries and without any employment security. If they complain, the employer can easily have them kicked out of the country.

If we need to prioritize, why aren’t we targeting the employers who let undocumented immigrants slave away in restaurant kitchens or work for nothing as cleaners?

Why aren’t we targeting the people in Sweden who make money off undocumented immigrants shovelling snow off the rooftops wearing nothing on their feet but trainers?

Why aren’t we targeting the people in Sweden who rope in undocumented immigrants to demolish houses riddled with asbestos without offering them proper protective gear?

Many work for subcontractors. It is the big Swedish companies who don’t keep an eye on their subcontractors who carry much of the responsibility for this abuse.

The undocumented migrants are not the problem. The companies that exploit them are.

Undocumented workers are also workers, but with worse working conditions, lower salaries and less security than anyone else in our country.

That we let this happen and that we through our parliamentary system have told the police to hunt them down like animals is not just a waste of resources but deeply shameful.

Daniel Wiklander is editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Arbetaren, published by the Syndicalist Union (SAC) since 1922.

Follow Daniel on Twitter here

Member comments

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


Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

In Sweden, a sambo is domestic partner – someone you’re in a relationship with and live with, but to whom you aren’t married. If you, as a non-EU citizen, are in a sambo relationship with a Swedish citizen, you can apply for a residence permit on the basis of that relationship. But meeting the requirements of that permit is not always straightforward.

Reader question: How do you meet the requirements for a sambo visa?

An American reader, whose son lives with his Swedish partner, wrote to The Local with questions about the maintenance requirement her son and his partner must meet in order to qualify for a sambo resident permit.

“Their specific issue is that they meet the requirements for a stable relationship and stable housing, but have been told that qualifying for a sambo visa based on savings is unlikely,” she wrote, asking for suggestions on how to approach this issue. Her son’s partner is a student with no income, but whose savings meet maintenance requirements. But, they have been told by lawyers that Migrationsverket will likely deny the application based on the absence of the Swedish partner’s income.

How do relationships qualify for sambo status?

In order to apply for a residence permit on the basis of a sambo relationship, you and your partner must either be living together, or plan to live together as soon as the non-Swedish partner can come to Sweden. Because this reader’s son is already in Sweden as a graduate student, he can apply for a sambo permit without having to leave the country, provided that his student permit is still valid at the time the new application is submitted.

The Migration Agency notes that “you can not receive a residence permit for the reason that you want to live with a family member in Sweden before your current permit expires”. So once your valid permit is close to expiration, you can apply for a new sambo permit.

What are the maintenance requirements for a sambo permit?

The maintenance requirements for someone applying for a sambo permit fall on the Swedish partner, who must prove that they are able to support both themselves and their partner for the duration of the permit. This includes both housing and financial requirements.

In terms of residential standards that applicants must meet, they must show that they live in a home of adequate size – for two adult applicants without children, that means at least one room with a kitchen. If rented, the lease must be for at least one year.

The financial requirements are more complicated. The Swedish partner must be able to document a stable income that can support the applicant and themselves – for a sambo couple, the 2022 standard is an income of 8,520 kronor per month. This burden falls on the Swedish partner.

While the Migration Agency’s website does say that you may “fulfil the maintenance requirement (be considered able to support yourself) if you have enough money/taxable assets to support yourself, other persons in your household and the family members who are applying for a residence permit for at least two years”, it is unclear how proof of this would be documented. On a separate page detailing the various documents that can be used to prove that maintenance requirements are met, there is nothing about how to document savings that will be used to support the couple.

Can you apply on the basis of savings instead of income?

Well, this is unclear. The Migration Agency’s website does suggest that having enough money saved up to support both members of the sambo relationship is an option, but it gives no details on how to document this. It is also unclear whether applying on the basis of savings will disadvantage applicants, with preference given to applicants who can show proof of income from work.

The Local has reached out to an immigration lawyer to answer this question.