President Trump is slandering Sweden in his attempt to find reason for what he wants to do in closing off the United States. His actual knowledge of the issue is probably extremely limited.
However, incidents in Gothenburg, Rinkeby and Malmö might shatter a few illusions about Sweden. And if you take a closer look, you notice the Arabic signs in shop windows, overhear conversations in Kurdish, and see many faces of people of Somali descent.
One year in the 1990s brought in about 100,000 refugees to Sweden, women, children and men fleeing the carnage of the Balkans, most of them from Bosnia, and most of them were Muslims. That huge inflow caused increase unemployment and made for a toxic debate, and some even resorted to violence.
Since then Sweden has made its mark on the world not by fighting wars but by offering shelter to wars’ victims. Over the past 15 years, some 650,000 asylum-seekers made their way to Sweden. Of the 163,000 who arrived last year, 32,000 were granted asylum.
When Donald Trump last month suggested something was going wrong in Sweden, his remarks were first met with confusion, and then with derision. But after the riots broke out in Rinkeby, one local resident told CNN he thought Trump’s comments were “spot on”.
No doubt, the massive influx of refugees from the Balkan wars created difficulties. Years later there were some brutal shootouts in Stockholm between organized crime gangs originating in Balkan, and gang warfare has been a feature of the country for years now. Stockholm has been witness to Dickensian scenes of young pickpockets and thieves playing games of cat-and-mouse with the police, who feel powerless.
Today, one in seven voters supports the Sweden Democrats, a populist party until recently reviled in polite Swedish society.
Many second generation immigrants claim that immigration to Sweden has gone too far, and that the situation is out of control.
Numerous studies, however, show that the Bosnian refugees have integrated well in Swedish society. On average they do as well, or even marginally better, than those born in the country. And they are everywhere: in sports, culture, business and politics. Many Swedes argue that they have given an added flavor to the country and in many ways made Sweden a better country.
On the other hand, Amir Rostami, an authority on Swedish organized crime who teaches at Stockholm University, says, ‘Today, the gang environment is — well, I don’t want to exactly call it the Wild West, but something in that direction.’
Others remain absolutely convinced that Sweden’s immigration policy is something to be proud of, and that the story is one of success.
There are of course other groups in Sweden than Bosnians. There are probably more people from Persia than from Bosnia, and no less than 17 percent of the population is from Finland. And although there have been Syrian communities for years now, many from Syria has also come.
A much more difficult problem than integrating adults into the Swedish society is how to deal with all the unaccompanied children. During the Iraq war, about 400 children arrived without their parents each year — and all of them needed a place to live, social support and proper schooling. In 2014, when the number of children arriving annually hit 7,000, there were serious questions about how Sweden would cope. Last year, just over 35,000 unaccompanied children registered with the authorities.
Sweden has received more refugees per capita than any other European nation. At the peak of the European migrant crisis in 2015, more than 160,000 people arrived in Sweden requesting asylum – a huge surge for a country with a population recently reaching the ten million mark.
“The equivalent in the US would be to take in six to seven million refugees,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a counter-terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense University.
Some groups have sometimes taken longer time to integrate. And the strict structures of the Swedish welfare society are more geared to protecting insiders than opening up to outsiders. Currently the two biggest groups of immigrants are Afghans and Somalis. Then come Syrians, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Moroccans and Eritreans. Some are fleeing war; many are fleeing poverty and misery. Strikingly, boys outnumber girls by about five to one.
Unlike other countries, Sweden doesn’t test for age. Whatever age the applicant gives is accepted, unless it’s ‘obviously’ untrue. For this and other reasons, many Swedes remain suspicious. The cost of accommodating child refugees is enormous: $200 per child per day. There are serious concerns about children falling victim to predatory adults who have lied about their age.
Sweden has, however, offered a new future to some of those fleeing the horrors of wars, and it has been a part of the good story of Sweden – also for US President Trump.
Sweden – The Humanitarian Superpower, written by Tor Kjolberg