• Sweden's news in English

Sweden grapples with rise in Syrian refugees

AFP/The Local · 12 Dec 2013, 08:14

Published: 12 Dec 2013 08:14 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Sweden, as the only country to give Syrian refugees automatic residence, has struggled to house them and faces warnings of a coming surge in new arrivals. Josef Ariss and his mother Reina fled Aleppo in northern Syria three months ago when their family's clothing factory was flattened by shelling. Although relieved to escape the violence, he is far from happy with the situation in Sweden -- living in cramped conditions with relatives, like many of his countrymen.

"We're staying at my aunt's house -- eight people in 90 square metres," the soft-spoken 20-year-old told AFP.

Speaking at a crowded Syrian cultural centre in the outskirts of Stockholm as new arrivals streamed out of a Swedish language class, he added: "If you need help from the Migration Board to find a place they throw you in the north where it's far below freezing. We can't live there."

Wearing a warm knitted jumper and a look of tired resignation, his mother Reina, 50, said she had expected something different.

"We came here with big hopes of starting over -- of having our own place to stay," she said.

Sweden has seen a sharp increase in Syrian refugees -- about 8,000 have arrived since it threw the doors open in September, bringing the total number this year to more than 14,000 -- of a total of 50,000 refugees. The Migration Board (Migrationsverket) offers everyone temporary accommodation in a growing network of refugee centres scattered around the country.

SEE ALSO: Syrians boost Stockholm population growth

However, at least a third of newly arrived Syrians go straight to relatives and friends -- mainly in the Stockholm area and Södertälje, located about an hour south of the capital, both of which have sizeable Syrian communities.

"It's chaos with housing," said Elizabet Toutoungi from the Syrian Association, a voluntary cultural organization. "The Migration Board helps with temporary refugee accommodation -- but many who have gone there haven't been able to stay because it's too tough for big families and people with children. It's like a hostel, and you can be there a long time."

Refugees at 20-year peak

About 8,000 refugees with residence permits live in reception centres, currently having to wait an average of six months for permanent accommodation, according to migration authorities. The queue is expected to double next year with up to 69,000 more refugees, the highest level since the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. In Södertälje, the situation has already passed crisis proportions, said Social Democratic mayor Boel Godner.

During the Iraq war, the town -- with a population of 90,000 -- took in more refugees than all of North America did, and is home today to 25,000 Middle Eastern Christians, many of whom belong to the Syrian Orthodox church.

"We've had at least 700 new families in the last year and they all live with relatives and friends -- it's often cramped with two or three families in an apartment meant for one," said Godner. Although she supports Sweden's liberal refugee policy, she wants to remove refugees' right to choose where they stay when they arrive. With a further 2,000 Syrians expected in Södertälje next year, she is worried about the long-term consequences for a district with 14 percent unemployment -- nearly double the national average.

"If we had the power to check we would say 'no, it's too crowded here'," she said. "Children have it tough at school... learning Swedish when everyone around them speaks the same (foreign) language. And it's hard to get jobs, which creates a lot of poverty and frustration. Many refugees would be better off if the whole country helped out -- there are districts that have not accepted a single refugee."

More must show solidarity

Sweden's Migration Minister Tobias Billström said Sweden can handle the upturn and he ruled out curbing refugees' freedom of movement, citing human rights accords. However he acknowledged that accommodation was a problem -- noting that Sweden has a housing shortage regardless of its refugee intake.

"All municipalities have to show solidarity," he told AFP, adding that the same applied to Europe. "We see problems with the fact that two countries -- Sweden and Germany, which are not European Union border states -- are accepting a disproportionate number of Syrians arriving in Europe." 

Story continues below…

"You only need to turn on your TV or open a newspaper to see pictures of the bloody conflict in Syria," he added, "and be reminded why everyone has to take their share of the responsibility."

Billström has promised extra funding to Södertälje and other councils, but Godner said it will not be enough. The issue has provoked little mainstream debate, not even when the government announced plans to award residency to all Syrian refugees – with the exception of war criminals. Some analysts say the rise of the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) -- at about 10 percent in recent opinion polls -- is to blame and that Sweden is in denial about the potential impact of its generous migration policy.

RELATED: 'Sweden's integration debate skewed by political correctness'

"We have very high public support for a generous and liberal migration policy ... but at the same time SD has polarized the debate - they are driving the other parties into a more hard-line (liberal) position," said Adam Cwejman from the centre-right think tank Timbro. 

"You're either for or against. There's no real debate about the long-term challenges in housing and employment," he said. "But we need to acknowledge some of the massive problems facing local councils."

DON'T MISS: The woman who unleashed a flood of Swedish asylum stories

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Look familiar? Meet your jawbone's ancestor
Thank God for evolution, eh?

There's something fishy about the human jawbone – it has its origins in the placodermi, a jowly species of fish that lived 400 million years ago, Swedish and Chinese researchers say.

Isis claims unremarked arson attack in Malmö
The arson attack took place on Norra Grängesbergsgatan in Malmö. File photo: Emil Langvad/TT

An arson attack in Malmö that caused only minor damage and was barely reported in the media has been claimed by terror group Isis.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available