‘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

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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.”