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IMMIGRATION

‘Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger’

Meet Roula al Naser, a 25-year-old accountant from Syria who arrived in Sweden on New Year’s Eve 2014, who wonders why, despite her qualifications, the only opportunity she had in Sweden is at a café.

'Whenever I apply for jobs I’m treated like an unwanted stranger'

I was the first of my family to leave Syria, and was filled with passion to build a new life away from war. After I re-settled in Sweden, I went through SFI and other advanced language courses, and finally mastered Swedish.

I participated in fast-track programmes, and worked in Wayne’s Coffee for four months. At the same time, I was always applying for jobs – and that for me became more than a habit. It became almost a biological necessity, just like drinking, or eating. I wished simply to get a reply – even a negative one – but this never happened.

Now I speak English, Swedish, and Arabic. I have a great deal of experience in accounting, something I studied at Damascus University for four years, and trained with the CEO of one of Syria’s largest medicine companies, Unipharma.

However, my humble – but not bad – expertise, couldn’t secure me a single answer from the hundreds of Swedish employers I’ve contacted throughout the last two years.

Disappointment

The question of why I can’t find a job in Sweden never flees my brain.

I don’t think it is competence, because that’s something I already possess. Maybe employers are seeking Swedes only, but I really have no idea.

Not giving people with experience a chance truly depresses them. I believe being a refugee with a doctorate degree shouldn't mean you get nothing more than position in a restaurant.

It’s not a shame to work wherever, but it’s not fair to ignore one’s expertise. If that happens, one’s competence can die.

My visits to the employment office are met mostly with disappointment; every time I turn to them seeking to improve my experience, they relentlessly suggest I contact a restaurant or a café. But that doesn’t fit me, and would seriously weaken my competence – which already feels like it’s sliding backwards.

I am attached to this country to a great extent, but whenever I apply for jobs I feel like I’m treated like an unwanted stranger.

Part of me says: employers might be uninterested, or they don’t take our university degrees seriously.

We could learn from each other

Open your doors, give us a chance and vet us. I deeply believe we have great brains that Sweden could take advantage of. We could learn from each other, and together have a great impact.

Nowadays, I live with a great Swedish family that shelters me while I try to find myself accommodation. Lodging is yet another hurdle in my ‘Swedish dream’, but it’s not as important right now as finding work.

At the same time, it’s important not to forget or disrespect the extraordinary treatment we Syrian refugees have received from Sweden – such a humane society – while so many others let us down so desperately.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m entitled to live opinion-less, or accept not being myself. I find myself through work and achievement, and through my struggles, I will be thanking and serving Sweden, day and night.
My work is my happiness. But now my life is on stand-by.

I see myself stuck in limbo. It’s all about waiting, and waiting is suffocating.

To anyone who now asks me what I’m doing, I simply answer:

I am waiting.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

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