Half of refugees struggle with bills after a decade

Half of refugees struggle with bills after a decade
Asylum seekers in northern Sweden last month. Photo: TT
Thousands of refugees granted permanent residency in Sweden in 2004 are still getting financial assistance from local municipalities with less than half of them earning 13,000 kronor ($1570) a month, it has emerged.

The figures were revealed on Wednesday as part of a nationwide investigation by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, which looked at how challenging it was for immigrants to enter the labour market in Sweden.

The paper considered the livelihoods of 24,567 people who were given a residence permit in Sweden a decade ago and found that 15,740 of them were still of working age and living in their adopted country in 2014.

Of those who had come to the Nordic nation as refugees, less than half (46 percent) were found to be earning 13,000 kronor ($1570) a month. The average median wage in Sweden is 23,700 kronor a month ($2861). While the newspaper notes that comparing the two figures is not “entirely fair” because many Swedish-born workers have been established in the country’s labour market for longer than a decade, it argues that the figures are nevertheless “concerning”.

One in three refugees were found to be receiving financial help from local authorities ten years after their arrival.

Among immigrants who had travelled to Sweden under rules that allow some family members to join relatives who have already been given a residency permit, the median income was found to be just 4500 kronor a month ($543).

The study provoked a strong debate in the Swedish media on Wednesday. 

Olaf Åslund, Professor of Econoics and Director General of the Institute for Labour Market and Education Policy Evaluation (IFAU) told Dagens Nyheter:  “It's some kind of failure when so many people have difficulties getting into stable employment and becoming self-sufficient. This despite the fact that in many cases they have good qualifications and big ambitions….It is difficult to say how "responsibility cake” should be distributed [among] politicians, social services, we as citizens or the individuals themselves”.

“Major problems in the labour market,” tweeted media commentator Liv Beckström alongside a photo of her copy of the paper.

“After ten years every second [person] earning less than 13,000. Important review,” she wrote.

The newspaper also questioned previously released official statistics which suggested that two out of three refugees found work in Sweden after ten years, describing the definition of “labour” used as “generous” because even those working for just an hour a week were included in this figure. However it accepted that the Swedish study used established and internationally recognised measures of employment.

Sweden currently receives the highest number of refugees per capita in the EU and is second only to Germany as a destination for Syrians fleeing the four-year war in their home country.

In 2013, Sweden granted automatic residency to Syrian refugees and has since seen asylum requests rising to record levels, expected to reach about 90,000 in 2015.
The rising number of immigrants to the Scandinavian country has been linked to the rapid rise of the nationalist Sweden Democrats, the third largest party in the Swedish parliament since the last general election in September 2014.

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