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Integration drives wedge between Swedish liberals

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Integration drives wedge between Swedish liberals
A debate on immigration has caused a rift in the Sweden's Liberal Party. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT
17:08 CET+01:00
Sweden should consider reducing the number of refugees it takes in to protect the welfare state, leading members of the opposition Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) say. But the idea has led to a row within the party.

The comments follow a week which has split the party and seen it drop to 4.5 percent in the polls, according to a survey by newspaper Expressen and Demoskop – its lowest since 2007 – sparking calls for the resignation of party leader Jan Björklund.

Former political adviser in the Liberal Party's cabinet office Jenny Sonesson took a swing at the government as well as her own party in an interview with The Local on Monday. She said: “Established politicians have got their eyes closed. There is such a fear of talking about this issue. I am convinced that if the Sweden Democrats did not exist in the Swedish political landscape we would be seeing a different immigration policy.”

“We cannot handle the large migration streams we are seeing at the moment.  We are already experiencing problems such as unemployment and lack of housing. You don’t have to be Einstein to realize that this is not working.”

In 2013, Sweden granted asylum to 26,395 people - more people than any other EU country. According to a prognosis by the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket), about 90,000 people are expected to seek asylum in Sweden in 2015. 

Sonesson proposed appointing an expert commission to investigate Sweden’s ability to accept refugees in a debate article, published last week in Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and co-written by fellow party member Ulrica Westerlund.

But illustrative of the rift in the party she claimed her article had provoked strong reactions:

“Some of my party colleagues have made references to nazism and World War II after my article, which is only about trying to protect the welfare state,” she said.

“If we are serious about wanting other countries in the EU to take their responsibility and accept more refugees, then Sweden also needs to take responsibility to be a country of inspiration, not a cautionary tale. The greatest threat to tomorrow's reception of asylum seekers is the failure of today's. The voters can close the borders. Politicians forget this.”

Proposals for stricter immigration policies, including new language requirements and stricter rules for family stream migrants presented in January this year by the Liberal Party's integration committee have seen party leader Jan Björklund come under fire from both directions.

Youth organisation Liberal Students called for his resignation and accused him of making the situation worse for refugees. Chairwoman Hanna Håkansson said in an interview with newspaper Aftonbladet: “I got politically engaged to make the world a better place and to be able to help people who leave their homes to flee in search of a better life.”

Conversely, last week, four Folkpartiet members took the proposals one step further in an opinion piece in newspaper DN, suggesting a cap on the number of asylum seekers allowed into the country.

"[Folkpartiet's proposals] are not enough, whether in the short term or long term perspective. So far neither the government nor the opposition have presented proposals that measure up to the problems that need to be solved," they said.

Björklund told Expressen the debate was inevitable, saying: “The background is that I did something you are not allowed to do in Sweden. I criticized Swedish integration policy.”

“From one direction I am accused of being completely naïve, from the other a racist,” he said.

Roger Haddad, chairman of the integration committee, told The Local: “I regret that people are using the integration group’s suggestions to voice their views on Jan Björklund. This should be a debate about issues, not the question of who our party leader ought to be.” 

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