During the migration crisis of 2015, Sweden welcomed 163,000 asylum-seekers, of which a majority was believed to be from civil war-struck Syria, yet not even a third claimed to come from Bashar al Assad’s realm. This influx of 163,000, which might not seem like a big number at first glance, means that, in relation to her population, Sweden received almost 27 times more refugees (or those who claimed to be) compared to the United Kingdom in 2015 alone.
In contrast to other European countries, Sweden had and still has a remarkably soft attitude towards people who arrived without any sort of documents and a considerable share received permanent residency without even proving their identity. For instance, many of the “Syrians” were citizens of other Arab countries in the Levant or the Maghreb.
A particularly absurd outcome was that nearly a quarter of this influx, more people than the population of Uppsala – the fourth largest city in the country, were supposedly “unaccompanied children” making Sweden take about half the share of the EU. There was absolutely no doubt that, by simply looking at them, a very high share were adults who wanted to benefit from an even more benevolent treatment for minors. Still Swedish authorities were more than reluctant to apply age testing. When age testing was finally introduced, 81 per cent among those tested appeared to be older than 18. For 17 per cent the result was ambiguous. Until this day, many of these “boys”, interestingly no “girls”, are still in Sweden despite their fraud being scientifically uncovered.
The year 2015 stands out, but the long-term trend is the result of decades of plain mismanagement. Since the turn of the millennium, Sweden has issued more than two million new resident permits, which has caused not only an unprecedented increase in population but also a significant change in its makeup. This growth is three times higher than that of Denmark, Norway and Finland put together.
The influx of asylum-seekers is today lower than in 2015 but the net migration in terms of new residence permits still hovers around 120,000 people year, not at least as a result of vast family connections and liberal rules for family migration. By comparison, the corresponding level for the UK would be 700,000 per year.
Obviously, this has fundamentally and rapidly reshaped Swedish demographics. Today, more than 20 per cent of the population were born in another country, in addition to an ever-increasing group of second or third generation immigrants who show little or no interest in growing up in traditional Swedish society. Therefore, they choose to live among each other, forming closed neighbourhoods in the suburbs. In several cities, middle class parents are now hustling to get their children out and into the decreasing number of schools where Swedish is still the dominant language.
The migration-related costs are increasing dramatically, considering that the “Swedish model” of the labour market is based on advanced skills and high output, while the low wage sector is very limited. Quite simply, too much migration from countries with poor education systems results in unemployment and dependency on social welfare.
A multitude of programs to integrate immigrants into the labour market were launched by both left wing and centre-right governments, yet the results have been conspicuously poor and have mainly resulted in a systematic waste of enormous resources. From 2014 to 2019 Ylva Johansson was the Minister for Employment responsible for these dysfunctional integration programs. Today, she is the European Commissioner for Home Affairs with a portfolio that covers migration.
Swedish authorities have consistently been reluctant to study the link between immigration and criminality. In 2018, however, a team of reporters from public television conducted their own investigation of the over-representation of immigrants in sexual offences. It showed that 58 per cent of those convicted of rape or attempted rape were born abroad, not including second-generation immigrants. For sexual assault, the number was 85 per cent.
Meanwhile, the public clearly understands the number of “shootings” has dramatically increased in neighbourhoods dominated by immigrants, many with extensive links to organised crime. No other Western European country has a similar level of murders between young people. The police acknowledge about 60 “vulnerable areas”, where local inhabitants cannot testify against criminals for fear of their own safety.
With good reason, Swedes have long been sceptical of liberal migration policies. Today, they are firmly in favour of reduced and controlled migration, with one recent poll suggesting 63 per cent of the population want a reduction and only 8 per cent want higher levels.
Interestingly, the government’s measures do not tally with public opinion. Very recently, negotiations on the subject between the governing Social Democrats and the (centre-right) Moderate (opposition) party collapsed, the main reason being that the Green party (which received 4.4 per cent of the vote in 2018) threatened to leave the government if stricter migration policies were implemented. Likewise, the two Liberal parties and the Left party have a record of promoting generous asylum laws. As a result, potential reforms of migration policies are stuck in gridlock at least until the next elections, scheduled for 2022.
This development undermines what is perhaps Sweden’s main asset, Nordic trust. Nordic trust is the bedrock of Swedish welfare system, limited income gaps, low corruption, a reasonably well functioning tax system and everyday security. At least some studies suggest that solidarity and mutual trust can decrease in countries with a greater ethnic diversity. This is what is happening in Sweden right now. Obviously, also Nordic societies can cope with limited and managed immigration, if it is related to the needs of the labour market, which is hardly the case today.
In future researchers may try to analyse how this could happen. It boils down to an anxious group-thinking among decision-makers in the light of uncomfortable truths, an unwillingness to make difficult decisions and an extremely biased media coverage of anything faintly related to migration. Prior to the elections in 2014 Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt – leader of the centre-right Moderate party – publicly called for “open hearts” as Sweden faced the looming migration crisis, creating a near pro-migration consensus among the parties in the parliament.
With one exception: the social conservative Sweden Democrats have consistently been opposed to the ongoing demographic changes. Despite being depicted as “extreme” by Swedish media the Sweden Democrats would certainly be a mainstream party in most other European countries; just look at Sweden’s southern neighbour Denmark. In the European parliament, the Sweden Democrats belong to the ECR group co-founded by the British Conservative Party.
The situation with social, cultural and ethnic segregation and public finances under pressure in the municipalities was serious enough prior to the corona crisis. A global recession will make matters much worse. Sweden being a symbol for stability and social welfare may soon be little more than nostalgia. Many would say that we are already there.