Swedish Justice Minister hits back at Polish MEP’s attack on Sweden

Sweden's Justice and Migration Minister Morgan Johansson has hit back at a Polish MEP who claimed Swedes were "fleeing" to Poland to escape crime and multiculturalism in their home country.

Swedish Justice Minister hits back at Polish MEP's attack on Sweden
Minister Morgan Johansson said that relatively few Swedes move to Poland, but was also critical of foreign-born thieves in Sweden. Photo: Tove Eriksson / TT

Polish MEP Beata Mazurek singled out Sweden as an example of negative “consequences of multiculturalism and open doors to immigration”, saying “Swedes are fleeing their country to find peace and normality in Poland”.

In 2018, 1,689 people moved from Sweden to Poland, including 1,377 Polish-born people and 241 Swedes. In the same period, 3,851 people moved from Poland to Sweden, according to Statistics Sweden.

Mazurek, a former spokesperson for the Polish national-conservative party Law and Justice and current member of the European Parliament's group of European Conservatives and Reformists ( ECR), falsely claimed there were “sharia zones” in Sweden and listed “murders, increased crime, rape” as consequences of Sweden's immigration policy. 

Johansson told Swedish daily Aftonbladet that the claims were false, citing immigration and crime statistics.

“It's completely pulled out of the air,” he said. “In 2017-2018 alone, more than 8,000 Poles moved to Sweden, more than three times the total number of Swedes who live in Poland. The MEP should therefore rather ask herself why so many Poles are 'fleeing' Poland.”

He added: “Something which we actually do have a problem with is foreign gangs of thieves, not least from Poland. Foreign gangs are behind around half of all break-ins in Sweden and 90 percent of all thefts of cars, boat engines, and agricultural machinery. If the MEP can do something about that, I'd be grateful.” 

The country does not keep official records on the ethnicity of perpetrators, but a recent government-ordered study by National Council on Crime Prevention (Brå) found no link between the rise in reported rapes and assaults and the arrival of refugees. 

While Sweden has seen a rise in reported rapes since 2005, this was said by Brå to be likely due to “the expanding of the legal definition of rape” that year. Another factor is the way in which sexual crimes are reported in Sweden, where all reported events are recorded as crimes and several offences of the same type are recorded separately, whereas many other countries would count multiple rapes or assaults by the same perpetrator as one offence. 

Mazurek shared an article from the conservative daily newspaper Nasz Dennik, according to which there are 2,500 Swedish citizens resident in Poland. Citing a Twitter survey conducted by Norway-based far-right account PeterSweden it stated that many Swedes wanted to leave the country for “their safety and that of their families”.

The article also falsely stated that Sweden was home to 80 neighbourhoods “practically controlled by Islamists, where Sharia is in force”, with Stockholm's Rinkeby suburb as “the largest” and saying “the police don't show up there, the ambulance can't come in, there is chaos”.

Rinkeby is one of around 60 neighbourhoods described by police as 'vulnerable' or 'especially vulnerable', meaning they are “characterized by a low socio-economic status where criminals have an impact on the local community”.

These areas, including Rinkeby, sometimes require emergency services to act differently – for example avoiding parking vehicles in certain areas due to higher than average vandalism, or engaging in long-term community building work, but police officers working in these areas have previously told The Local there are no “no-go zones” in Sweden.

IN DEPTH: Working on the front line in Stockholm's vulnerable suburbs

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OPINION: Racism doesn’t get much more obvious than Sweden’s refugee bias

When you look at Sweden's reception of Ukrainian refugees, it's clear that what was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria, is not considered good enough for white Christians from Ukraine, notes Stockholm University Professor Christian Christensen.

OPINION: Racism doesn't get much more obvious than Sweden's refugee bias

As thousands of Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Sweden following the invasion by Russia, the headline of a recent opinion piece by the leader of Sweden’s far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party spoke volumes: ‘There is a Difference Between Refugees and “Refugees”’

For Åkesson and his nationalist supporters, Ukrainian refugees are “real” refugees. They are from ”a Christian country with a culture that is more closely related” to that of Sweden, while refugees who escaped Syria and Afghanistan were framed as being made up of millions of backward, poorly-educated “professional migrants” (his term) devoid of European values and sensibilities.

With this backdrop, recent comments posted on Twitter by a municipal council member in Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, provided a disturbing insight into how politicians, not only the far-right but on all sides of the political spectrum, use different sets of standards when considering Ukrainian and Syrian refugees. And how the vision of refugees held by the Swedish far-right has bled into the Swedish political mainstream.

On May 5, Daniel Bernmar, the group leader for the opposition Left Party in the Gothenburg municipal council, sent a series of tweets in which he detailed how fellow council members expressed dismay over the poor services and paltry benefits available to refugees arriving from Ukraine. While on the surface an egalitarian position, the irony, Bernmar pointed out, was that the levels of financial support and services about which they were complaining were set by the very same group of politicians…when the arriving refugees were predominantly Syrian.

In other words, what the local politicians considered to be acceptable support for Syrians was now considered unacceptable support for Ukrainians.

Bernmar detailed a number of the specific concerns expressed by his colleagues.

Members of anti-immigration Sweden Democrats complained that the small amount of spending money given to Ukrainian refugees meant that they could not even afford to take local buses. Why, they asked, had the policy of allowing refugees to ride for free been scrapped? Others asked how without access to public transport Ukrainian refugees could be expected to take their children to school or look for work? And, in perhaps the most Swedish of issues, municipal councilors expressed concern that Ukrainian parents could not send children under the age of three to state-subsidized daycare.

Bernmar noted that he had “never before heard these parties or people address the unacceptable social or economic situation for refugees.” He then addressed the elephant in the room. The dismay expressed by colleagues over conditions facing refugees – conditions the same politicians approved when refugees were Syrian – was unsurprising, he wrote, given that they, “did not previously apply to white, Christian Europeans.”

These revelations should come as no surprise. While seemingly at odds with Sweden’s reputation for openness and egalitarianism, the fact is that political parties at both ends of the Swedish political spectrum have adopted increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Yet, when structural discrimination is presented in such a transparent fashion, it is still jarring.

At the most fundamental level, the case demonstrates how perceptions of the value of human life and human dignity are shaped by ethnicity, religion, and nationality. What was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria just isn’t good enough for white, European Christians. Racism and ethnocentrism don’t come much clearer than that.

But this revelation cuts even deeper and wider. And it applies to nations beyond Sweden’s borders, where immigrants and refugees struggle to construct new futures. What is evident from the comments made by the local politicians in Gothenburg is that they are fully aware of the impact of their policies on the everyday lives of refugees, how the ability to participate in the workforce, for example, is dependent upon basics such as transportation and childcare. That “integration” isn’t just a question of some mythological will, but of available material resources.

To remember that with Ukrainians, but forget it with Syrians, is cynicism of the highest order. It is to amplify the smear that there is a difference between refugees and “refugees.”

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

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.