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Swedish employer ‘tore up my application’ at job fair

A representative for a major Swedish company is accused of having ripped up an asylum seeker's job application in front of his face after he asked her to speak Swedish more slowly.

Swedish employer 'tore up my application' at job fair
Abdullah Al-Moadhen while studying in Donetsk, Ukraine. Photo:Private
Abdullah Al-Moadhen, who qualified as a doctor in Ukraine shortly before coming to Sweden in 2015, was visiting the Orkla Foods stall at a job fair in October, hoping he could adapt his medical training to food safety, when the company's representative lost patience with him and seized his application form. 
 
“She tore it up and threw it on the ground,” he told the Local. “I felt sad and disappointed and depressed. I don't know why she treated me like this. I've spoken to a lot of companies and given my CV to them, and they've all treated me perfectly well, except for Orkla.” 
 
Al-Moadhen has now made a formal complaint to Sweden's Discrimination Ombudsman (DO) on the advice of the Swedish state employment service. 
 
According to Al-Moadhen, the altercation began when he asked the company's representative to help explain a section on their application form, and she refused. 
 
“She said 'this is an elementary question, why are you asking me?'” Al-Moadhen said. 
 
She then began to speak Swedish so rapidly that Al-Moadhen, who has taught himself Swedish as he is not eligible for free government-funded tuition, could not follow her. 
 
“I said in Swedish, 'OK, can you speak Swedish slowly? I don't understand if you speak quickly'. And then she said, “In our factory, we don't need people who need Swedish spoken slowly.”
 
Al-Moadhen felt this was rude and told her so. “I said, 'look, if you say that people will get disappointed'.  And then she ripped up my application paper and threw it on the floor.”  
 
After this the representative told him to leave the job fair, but he refused telling her that she had no right to ask that as it was a public place. 
 
Cecilia Franck, Orkla's head of press, said the company was trying to better understand what took place before responding to DO. 
 
“No one should experience discrimination in contact with us,” she said. “As soon as we got the information from DO about how this person experienced the situation, we started an internal investigation to get the whole picture of what really happened.” 
 
“Hearing his version makes us concerned, but we need to get the whole picture before we can respond to DO. It wouldn't be fair otherwise.” 
 
Al-Moadhen is currently trying to pass the language and proficiency tests needed to start practising medicine in Sweden, but is having to study medical terminology alone, as Eslöv municipality where he lives has told him that it lacks the resources to provide specialist medical language training. 
 
He took a medical proficiency test in September, but failed. 
 
“Everything we studied for six years, you need to study again in the Swedish language. I have to read all my diploma, and all my six years, I have to study in Swedish.”

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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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