Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag. Photo: Bertil Enevåg Ericson/TT
After Swedes ranked first in the EU for their approach to immigrants, The Local chats to Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag about how the face of immigration has changed, and how Sweden manages the influx of Syrian refugees.
A report released this week revealed
that an EU-high 91 percent of Swedes thought that "immigrants contribute a lot to Sweden". That figure represented the highest score of all EU countries, where the average was 48 percent.
The news left Sweden's Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag beaming.
"This is a positive result, fantastic actually," he told The Local on Friday. "It means Sweden and Swedish people have become more used to immigration."
And there has been a lot for Swedes to get accustomed to, the minister accepted, with Sweden's foreign-born population jumping from 3 percent in the 1950s to over 15 percent today.
He said that nowadays, foreigners enjoy an easier transition to Sweden and that Swedes play a helping hand.
"You can see it in the work places, people are getting more used to foreigners and have a more positive attitude. There are many places in Europe, many with similar populations as Sweden, with far worse results."
The minister said Sweden’s table topping score was a direct result of the government's leadership.
"I think Sweden's political leadership has been crystal clear on the notion of openness, tolerance, and standing up for diversity. And of course, that influences the attitudes among the citizens, especially compared to several other European countries that have a different tone when it comes to integration. I think [in those countries] it boils down to a lack of political leadership,” he said.
Eight months on, Ullenhag says the national response has been positive.
"Public support is broad for giving Syrian refugees a new life," he explained. "It's obvious that you can't throw people back to Aleppo in the middle of a war."
Ullenhag said that the majority of his energy now was spent in finding housing for these refugees, who number between 11,000 and 12,000.
"Waiting a few months, even up to a year in some cases, is a bad start to say the least, but there is strong pressure on the municipalities to cooperate," he explained.
"But at this point, many of the people who are coming are quite well-educated and have possibilities in Sweden," he added.
"And you must remember that we're giving them permanent residence, which is another really positive aspect. If you look back at history you can see that integration is tougher on temporary permits.
“If you're not sure that you'll stay in Sweden, it's much harder to learn Swedish and to plan for your future," Ullenhag added.