For the two million of us born abroad, this election has felt like being invited to someone’s house only for them to forget you are there and then start arguing over your terrible manners and how to get rid of you.
When The Local and Alkompis surveyed our readers about the election campaign, many were appalled by the xenophobic rhetoric, which they complained was now coming from both left and right.
All the parties agree that Sweden is segregated and that this must be changed, but the debate has almost exclusively been about criminality. Party leaders have been photographed with police visiting areas where immigrants live, talking to local politicians and social workers, but very rarely spending much time with the people who actually live there. There has been a lot of talk about immigrants, but not so much conversation with immigrants.
We hear about people who burn cars or carry out gang shootings, those who have not learned Swedish and who live on benefits.
We do not hear so much about people who contribute everyday to Swedish society. Those who drive taxis, write code, wash sheets in hospitals, teach in universities, or change the nappies on your 93-year-old grandmother.
Have we already forgotten about the foreigners who were in the front line during the very worst periods of the Coronavirus pandemic? Those who worked in healthcare and took care of our sick, who drove buses full of snotty, coughing and potentially infectious people. Those who died. Health statistics show that mortality from Covid-19 was disproportionately high among those born in Turkey, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Greece and Chile.
From the Walloons who started the mining and iron industry to the British merchants and industrialists who founded companies in the 19th century, immigrants built Sweden’s economy. Since the Second World War, huge swathes of Swedish industry were developed with the labour of people from Italy and the former Yugoslavia, and many public services today are reliant on the skills of more recent immigrants from all parts of the world.
But it is getting harder and harder to come here, with long waits to get a work permit, and renewals still frequently refused due to small mistakes by employers. These issues are making life hard for individuals, but also for many Swedish employers who find it hard to recruit the staff they need.
This issue is almost entirely absent from the campaign. Instead, parties on both sides want to make coming to Sweden more difficult still, competing over who can have the higher salary threshold for work permits, and with the Social Democrats wanting to bring back the system where unions and bureaucrats get to decide what professions are needed.
Other policy proposals focus on criminality. The Moderates will bring in stop-and-search zones in ‘specially vulnerable areas’. They want to deport foreigners who are suspected of involvement in organised crime, whether they are found guilty by a court or not. The Sweden Democrats want whole families to be deported just because one family members commits a crime, and to bring in ‘humiliating’ community service punishments for nine year-olds.
The Liberals are proposing language tests for two year olds, while the Christian Democrats want to stress problems based on non-Swedish values.
Proposals like this threaten to make immigrants second-class citizens under the law. When the Social Democrats campaign on “turning over every stone to break segregating and stop gangs”, it’s the first time they’ve connected segregation, immigration and crime.
It stings a little to make the connection between immigration and crime so black and white.
Segregated areas have higher poverty, worse schools, worse healthcare, worse housing and, yes, more foreign-born people. Criminality is a result of segregation, it is not caused by foreign born people themselves.
The World Values Survey shows that Sweden, culturally, is exceptional. It is out there on its own when it comes to the level of individuality and secularism. But Swedes seem to forget that and just expect people to adapt as soon as they arrive. Magdalena Andersson talks every day about “turning over every stone” to fight segregation, but no one on any side ever suggests that Swedes, themselves, bear any responsibility for the problems.
Asking Swedish nationals to take the time and effort to become friends with their non-Swedish neighbours doesn’t seem to be a “stone” anyone is willing to consider turning over. It might take a long time before you invite your new colleague from a foreign country to your Midsummer celebrations, but you could at least get to know them.
Some parties – the Left Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party – at least recognise the contribution immigrants make, but even they tend to tell us what they think we need, rather than ask us what we want.
We’re here. We want to learn Swedish. We want to work, pay taxes, and be part of the wonderful society you have built. Let’s talk.