Steve Heronemus

A View From Sweden

Since The Great Pumpkin brought up the “horrible” thing that did (not) happen in Sweden a few nights ago, my Swedish friend who lives in Sweden (just so we’re clear) and I have been trading emails about the immigrant situation there. Sweden has long had a very welcoming policy toward refugees and immigrants, to the point that people not born in Sweden make up roughly one-quarter of the nation’s population. The strain on a society known for its social protections is real and there is serious policy debate about where the limits of generosity are, but there is not a rampant wave of terror-style violence in the country. Here are my friend’s comments, complete and unedited.

Every country has its own challenges and expectations from their citizens. When focusing on the humanitarian aspects of sheltering and helping people who have fled wars and hardships I believe my country have done a lot to help. It is a very troublesome situation in both the Middle East and Africa from where we have received most of the 273 000 refugees during the last three year period. Compared to per capita with the USA population that equal around 8 700 000 people or roughly the population of New York City.   
We need immigration for many reasons. I believe problems occur when expectations are high from the refugees who have been sold a picture of Sweden that is not matching their experience. The people in Sweden have high expectations on access to functioning health care, schools and services that are financed by among the highest taxes in the World. A mix that can get toxic if we enter into an economic recession that risk putting great strain on the solidarity.
Politicians here are in a difficult position which have put the generosity under great pressure for some time. In 2016  Sweden accepted only the EU minimum quotation standard which led to a drop to 30 000 (in 2015, 163 000) asylum seekers. Main concern right now being the ambitious agenda to integrate the refugees that seems to be very hard to work out in reality.  Many of the refugees that arrived here 2015, around 35%,  do not have more than a few years in School,  30 % are not able to read which makes it more difficult to learn a new language and begin assimilation.
There are not a lot of manual labor jobs at all to begin with in this country and the labor unions refuses to lower minimum salary floors simply because many of the members with low incomes are living on different types of social allowances and grants to cope. In places where accommodation is possible to find there are very limited opportunities to get jobs. In Stockholm and bigger cities where the economy is growing faster than in many years, you need a very high income or a good fortune to get access to a home. There are no vacancies of homes in bigger cities so the hurdle for job and accommodation is high even for the refugees that are well-educated with attractive skills and experiences that are attractive. The positive side with this situation is that smaller towns and the country side actually is getting a boost when small and medium sized companies weather new opportunities and access to labor.       
The ideal picture is never available but it is very difficult to see a medium term solution that does not involve a stop of the unrest in the countries involved and an opportunity for the refugees to repatriate.