Sweden: Swedes Begin to Question Liberal Migration Tenets

Johan Spanner for The New York Times

Immigrants from conflict zones like Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East dominate the Rosengard area of Malmo, Sweden. More Photos »


MALMO, Sweden — Nick Nilsson, 46, decided to vote for Sweden’s far-right party last fall because of a growing sense that his country had gone too far in letting so many immigrants settle here.

Johan Spanner for The New York Times

Ask Gasi, from Bosnia, got a degree and a job but still feels unwelcome. More Photos »

A truck driver, Mr. Nilsson lives a half mile from the Rosengard section of this city, where dreary apartment buildings are jammed with refugees from virtually all the world’s recent conflicts: Iranians, Bosnians, Palestinians, Somalis, Iraqis.

“No one has a job over there,” Mr. Nilsson said recently. “They are shooting at each other. There are drugs. They burn cars. Enough is enough.”

For a time, Sweden seemed immune to the kind of anti-immigrant sentiment blossoming elsewhere on the European continent. Its generous welfare and asylum policies have allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees to settle here, many in recent years from Muslim countries. Nearly a quarter of Sweden’s population is now foreign born or has a foreign-born parent.

But increasingly, Swedes are questioning these policies. Last fall, the far-right party — campaigning largely on an anti-immigration theme — won 6 percent of the vote and, for the first time, enough support to be seated in the Swedish Parliament.

Six months later, many Swedes are still in shock. The country — proud of its reputation for tolerance — can no longer say it stands apart from the growing anti-immigrant sentiment that has changed European parliaments elsewhere, leading to the banning of burqas in France and minarets in Switzerland.

In Malmo, a rapidly gentrifying port city in Sweden’s south, support for the far-right Sweden Democrats was particularly strong, about 10 percent of the vote. It is a place where tensions over immigration are on full display.

The city’s mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, a Social Democrat, ran his hands over a city map in his office, pointing out working-class neighborhoods like Mr. Nilsson’s that voted heavily for the Sweden Democrats, as might be expected, he said. But he could point to wealthier neighborhoods, too, that produced support for the far right as never before.

“We must dig deeper to understand that,” he said quietly.

Some experts say you do not have to dig that far. Sweden’s liberal policies have become costly. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Sweden, which had more manufacturing jobs than citizens to fill them, invited immigrants in. Most came from other European countries. They worked and paid taxes. Those were good years for Malmo, which had shipyards and a textile industry.

When those jobs disappeared, Sweden stopped the flow of immigrant labor, but not the flow of refugees, many of whom clustered in Malmo and other former industrial centers. Jobs were still scarce, but housing was available, apartments built long ago for laborers.

In some of those apartment blocks, the unemployment rate among immigrants stands at 80 percent. Still, their children need schooling, and they have elderly parents who need health care. Some are damaged by the violence they have lived through. They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol addictions.

Prof. Jan Ekberg, an economist at Linnaeus University, questions the policies that allowed so many refugees to settle far from jobs. “They are depending on the public sector now as never before,” he said. “That was a policy mistake.”

Rosengard hardly has the look of a troubled ghetto. Lawns and playgrounds abound. But the area does not look like traditional Sweden, either. Satellite dishes hang from every balcony. The bakery sells Middle Eastern confections. Al Jazeera plays on the televisions. And young men huddle on street corners casually bragging about doing battle with the police.

A few years ago, the fire and ambulance brigades would not even enter Rosengard without a police escort. Youths there threw rocks and set cars on fire. Police officials say things are much better now. Fires were down 40 percent last year compared with 2009. But last month, two police vehicles parked at the station were set on fire with small homemade explosives.

All this does not sit well with Mr. Nilsson and his wife, Ann-Christine, 51, who say that immigrants are not only failing to pay their way, but that they also are refusing to learn the ways of their host country.

“They do not respect Swedish people,” Mrs. Nilsson said. “As long as they learn the language and behave like Swedes, they are welcome. But they do not. Immigration as it is now needs to stop.”

But resentment runs both ways. Residents of Rosengard feel that they are isolated and looked down on. They scoff at the notion that Swedes are somehow special — less racist and xenophobic than other Europeans. They believe the country has been generous with financial support, but little else.

Young immigrants like Behrang Miri, 26, whose family came from Iran, say Islamophobia is a growing issue. “If a Swedish guy hits a woman, it’s alcoholism,” he said. “If someone hits a lady in my neighborhood, it’s due to culture.”

He added: “And all this talk about outlawing burqas for teachers. No teachers wear burqas. Why are they talking about that?”

Mr. Miri, a rapper who has started a nonprofit agency to encourage multiculturalism, says he loves Sweden and is grateful he was taken in. But, he says, the Swedes have not gone far enough in accepting immigrants. “O.K., they’ve opened up the first door.” he said. “But I want doors four, five and six. I want to be able to become president.”

Even older immigrants who have made lives here say they have little contact with Swedes. A refugee from Bosnia, Ask Gasi, says he can understand that Swedes are reluctant to embrace the diverse and needy refugee population. He wonders himself whether the government made a mistake in letting so many come in.

Mr. Gasi was able to earn a doctorate degree here, and he has a job as a teaching assistant. But he still does not feel welcome. He points to the swastikas and the Serbian crosses etched in the hall outside the mosque he attends.

“It’s hard to watch the news,” he said. “It’s Muslim this, Muslim that. Everything is about how bad we are. The Swedish won’t say anything to your face. But they say things.”

Some experts believe the support for the far right has already reached its limits in Sweden. They say the increase in votes last fall was more the product of deft campaigning by the far right, which has avoided inflammatory language, than a deepening of racist or xenophobic sentiments.

Ulf Bjereld, a political science professor at the University of Gothenburg, says that a vast majority of Swedes rank immigration very low on their list of concerns. He says they are, in fact, less racist and xenophobic than they used to be, according to surveys conducted regularly since the 1990s.

But researchers have found that immigrants do face discrimination in jobs and housing. Malmo’s mayor, Mr. Reepalu, believes jobs and schooling are critical, though he notes with disappointment that as soon as a school has more than about 20 percent immigrants, Swedish parents take their children out.


2 thoughts on “Sweden: Swedes Begin to Question Liberal Migration Tenets

  1. European schoolbooks present a distorted image of Islam and Muslims using stereotypes, a five-country study published on Sept 15 revealed showed.

    This slanted view reflects “cultural racism,” concluded Germany’s Georg Eckert Institute for textbook research, which analysed 27 volumes used in classrooms in Britain, France, Austria, Spain and Germany. The report was the first of its kind in Europe. “Islam is always presented as an outdated system of rules which has not changed since its golden age,” Susan Krohnert-Othman, said the institute’s project director.

    The researchers said that Islam is presented as a homogenous entity without reflecting its diversity in different parts of the world. The report did not find major differences between the five countries studied. The textbooks used at the secondary school level frequently depicted conflict between “antiquated Islam” against a “modern Europe”.

    “Even modern European school books include oversimplified presentations of Islam and they stand in the way of a credible intercultural dialogue with the Muslim world,” said Germany’s minister of state for European affairs at the foreign ministry, Cornelia Pieper, after reading the study’s findings.

    Muslim schools Performance Table published in the Muslim News (March 30). I have not seen this published anywhere.We keep on reading in the other media that Muslim children and schools do not do well. But according to the GCSE Table published, Muslims schools achieve better than the national average, in English and Maths. We should be celebrating such achievements. We don’t hear this from our leaders at all. All credits to the teachers and head teachers in Muslim schools for helping Muslim pupils achieve good results. Panorama started with praise for most Muslim schools, showing Al-Furqan as an example of what most schools are doing right.

    I feel the media machine has stereotyped Muslim schools as non-cohesive and extremist, the truth of the matter is they are no different to any other school; sorry, the only difference being that majority excel in academic achievement…is that a bad thing?

    British society and British education system is the home of institutional racism. That is a fact. The solution is that each and every community should have their own state funded schools with their own teachers. Muslim children suffer more than others.They need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods.

    Muslim schools fight against open discrimination, extremist and agressive atheist and secularist ideas that are now infringing upon our fundamental human rights. A form of social engineering not disimilar to the failed idealogy of communism. LEAs are unable to reconcile diversity and inclusion. They are implementing policies that effectively create confusion, ambiguity and can be abused to prevent any new community service that promotes and celebrates diversity. Muslim schools are attempting to make a stand on behalf of all those who believe that we have the right to choose how to educate our children.

    There are hundreds of state and church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be opted out as Muslim Academies.

    There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Bilingual Muslim children need bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods.

    Demand for Islamic education in England is growing fast and schools – official and unofficial – are springing up to meet it. Now some local authorities are concerned that there is insufficient regulation. Although the number of Islamic schools is still small – around 168 at the latest count, just 12 of them state-funded – it is growing fast. About 60 of these schools have opened in the last 10 years; several in the last couple of months. And the demand from parents seems to be huge – one school in Birmingham recently attracted 1,500 applications for just 60 places. At least five Islamic schools have recently applied to be free schools, although so far only one has been approved. Islam promotes seeking knowledge as a form of worship, and things like “memorising the Quran” are rewardable. That makes memorising anything else look easy. Muslims live up to a certain strict code which parents enforce on their children, thereby making them adhere to their schoolwork more than their non-religious counterparts. Islam puts a massive emphasis on education and its essentially part of the religion itself since its Sunnah (following in the manners of the Prophet (pbuh)) but also a lot of the pupils will be from ethnic minority families and stereotypes aside it’s no secret that they encourage their children to excel in their exams and what not.

    Anti Islam propoganda in the Western media for the past 20 years, which accellerated after the 911, is having the opposite effect. Some educated people in the West mainly out of curiosity want to learn what Islam is about. When they approach their research with an open mind, probably most of them form positive impressions about Islam and some of whom rightfully convert. In the USA after the events of 911, convertions to Islam pheonominally increased maily in amongst the educated white community and a large majority of them were females.

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