NGO network the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) carried out a report on racism and discrimination in the context of migration across 26 EU countries, and when it comes to Sweden, researchers concluded that while the country appears to be more progressive than other EU nations on immigration, the tide is turning.
The report highlights examples of attacks on migrants, anti-migrant discourse, and far-right vigilante activity in Sweden.
"In terms of immigration and integration policies it appears that Sweden is more progressive than other countries, but the tide is also turning. A number of restrictions to existing migration and integration policies have been introduced, and the media discourse has shifted from positive welcoming of refugees and asylum seekers to portraying migration, and by extension, migrants, as a problem," ENAR press spokesperson Georgina Siklossy told The Local.
"This also has an impact on people who have lived in Sweden for two or three generations and continue to be regarded as 'alien elements'," she added.
Citing figures recorded by the Kantor Center, the report notes that 43 arson attacks against asylum seeker accommodation occurred in Sweden in 2015, while in 2016 a group of black-clad masked men assaulted people who looked 'foreign' in Stockholm.
Those attacks are likely linked to wider anti-migrant debates in Sweden, according to Siklossy:
"Violence against migrants is fuelled by hateful anti-migrant discourse, although it is complex and difficult to prove a direct correlation between the two. Nevertheless, civil society organizations across Europe report that such discourse legitimises violent attacks, emboldens people with racist views to take action, and contributes to an overall climate of hostility towards migrants."
"The perpetrators of such attacks are hard to determine, although several are involved in far-right groups or movements, and it's clear far-right groups and parties play a role in opposition to asylum centres in this instance, distributing leaflets and mobilizing their supporters," the ENAR spokesperson added.
ENAR's report observes that far-right groups have been successful in setting the tone on migration, and that media outlets "conflate the Muslim community with issues of terrorism and security".
One person the organization interviewed said they felt that in Sweden "the media image around migrants basically means a Muslim, and that coverage about Muslims – in this case people who fled or have come here because of conflicts – are associated with what has become known as extremism".
Sweden is also one of several EU Member States where "the narrative purports that 'white' European women must be protected from predatory migrant Muslim men," ENAR's study adds.
Anti-Roma adverts launched by the Sweden Democrats (SD) in the Stockholm subway in 2015 meanwhile make it "as obvious as possible that certain migrants are not welcome" and normalize racism against Roma people.
The adverts sparked strong reactions however, and "individuals as well as organizations" condemned them, ENAR elaborates, but it is difficult to judge what proportion of the Swedish population is against the sentiments according to Siklossy:
"The research doesn't go more deeply into this aspect. Of course it's very positive that there was public condemnation of the advertising, but it is difficult to include from that instance that the vast majority of Swedes are against such sentiments, notably in the context of increasing support for SD in the 2014 elections."
In its conclusion, the report argues that across the EU there have been few specific efforts made to combat discrimination through legislative measures, while in contrast there are many examples of increasingly restrictive policies.
Most of the focus is on security and return measures, ENAR believes, while more attention needs to be given to two-way integration instead.
"There is no such thing as homogeneous nation-states in Europe but until this is understood more clearly by EU Member Sates, anti-migrant sentiments and racism will continue," the study concludes.