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Sweden: What's the problem?

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Sweden: What's the problem?
File photo of people in Sweden. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
13:59 CET+01:00
OPINION: Jim Walch, an American living in Sweden, reflects on immigration and his adopted country.

In Sweden, as elsewhere, defining a problem can be problematic.

In 2015, when some 160,000 refugees sought asylum in Sweden, the small town of Norberg was asked to do their part. When asked by a reporter if taking in a few hundred refugees in a town of only 7,000 wouldn't be a big problem, the mayor replied: "A few years ago we managed to stop the big forest fire just two hundred yards from the town. Now THAT was a problem. Managing a few hundred new arrivals is a challenge, not a problem." She was also using the new term "new arrivals" or "newly arrived".

I hope you don't have a problem with a little math: 300 is 4.3 percent in a population of seven thousand. 160,000 is 1.6 percent in a population of ten million. 1.6 percent of the US population is 5.2 million.

The local newspaper just arrived. Free, since it's mostly ads, but its local news is almost as good as social media. The conservative mayor has proclaimed that our little city, a suburb of Stockholm, is going to be number one in the country in integration. So the council is launching a programme for all new arrivals – or should we call them arrivees? Not just language training and general civics, but some real local information about Sollentuna: from Viking graves to hi-tech businesses and how we're already number one, really great, in environmental protection. A competition in humanity.

I also see in the local paper that a minor problem has been resolved. Our local cobbler, son of a Lebanese war refugee who taught him the trade, has finally found a better shop, right in the middle of our very own show-case shopping center. His motto seems to be: buy good shoes and keep them in repair. Good for you and good for the environment. Seems to make sense, even though some of the buy-and-discard shops he neighbours may not agree.

Home ownership is not always fun, so many things crop up that need to be done on the ever-growing project list. So I'm happy that I don't have to repaint this summer. The last repainting, done by refugees from war-torn Bosnia, was well done. They also run a father-son business.

Sorry if this epistle got a little erratic. I had to break off to feed a conglomerate of grandkids who suddenly announced that they had to be off early for another one of their many activities they forgot to tell us about. One of them, in eighth grade, told us about her new science teacher. "He seems nice. A little nervous. But is was his first day in our class." She's in an advanced math and science programme. "He's from Ethiopia, so that's cool."

In the middle of dinner preparations, my wife had to excuse herself. She's legal guardian for an Afghan boy. His father was murdered by the Taliban, his family scattered in Pakistan and Iran. He managed his way to Sweden. His civil rights lawyer, originally from Armenia and Iran, has fallen ill so the wife has to spend several hours on the phone today, and tomorrow, to re-schedule his long-awaited interview with the migration authorities. So I guess she'll be coming along as usual to our tutoring session at the local high school with new arrivees.

Oops. I see by my prized pocket-watch, refurbished by an Armenian who had fled first to Lebanon and then to Sweden, that it's time for the news. Maybe some more things on problems in Sweden.

Jim Walch is a retired university teacher. Originally from Wisconsin, he has been living in Sweden since 1965. Besides numerous grandchildren, he makes and repairs musical instruments.

Do you live in Sweden and want to share your views? E-mail news@thelocal.se.

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