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sweden | tage erlander | olof palme | migration policy

The need for labour has traditionally led Sweden to welcome waves of immigrants; sections of society now see this as a problem.

Oresund Bridge, between Denmark and Sweden, seen from Swedish territory [Wikipedia].

Oresund Bridge, between Denmark and Sweden, seen from Swedish territory [Wikipedia].

ANALYSIS / Jokin de Carlos

Sweden has had a reputation since World War II for being open to immigrants and for developing tolerant and open social policies. However, the increase in the number of immigrants issue , the slow cultural adaptation of some of these new communities, especially Muslims, and the problems of violence generated in more vulnerable areas have provoked an intense discussion in Swedish society. The view that a generous migration policy may be destroying Swedish identity and making life more difficult for native Swedes has fuelled the vote of some right-wing civil service examination , although the Social Democrats last year revalidated public support for a government that maintains traditional policies with some greater emphasis on expulsion of those whose application has been rejected.

Migration policy

One of Sweden's historical problems has been its leave fertility rate, which by the 1960s had fallen to the threshold of 2.1 children per woman needed for population replacement. This was threatening the celebrated Swedish welfare state, because of the need for tax revenues to maintain generous public services, so the country promoted the arrival of immigrants. At the same time, the need for labour was also posed by the development of domestic industry.

Sweden emerged from the Second World War in good shape. It did not suffer the destruction of other nations, being territorially on the margins of the conflict, and was able to consolidate a metallurgical industry which, thanks to the production of its iron ore mines, had benefited from selling to both sides in the war. This industrial development required a large work force, which the country's own birth rate of leave and the concentration of the population on the coast and in the south, outside the industrial centres, made it difficult to muster. In addition, the Swedish welfare state and the continuous decades of peace created a class average that did not want to work in the new industry because of the low wages it offered in order to be competitive.

To address labour shortages and thus maintain economic progress, Sweden turned to immigration from the 1950s onwards. The government first opened the border to asylum seekers or work and then built clusters of housing, usually of leave quality, near industrial areas where newcomers could find jobs without any requirement of language. When the cultural impact of these additions was too great in some areas, the government proceeded to close the borders, restricting immigration. When new workers were needed, the government reopened the border.

This system helped to bring about significant economic progress, but it also isolated many social groups, who were stuck in low-income areas with little chance of development or social integration.

development historical

Both during and after World War II, Sweden was an important destination for people from Norway, Denmark, Poland, Poland, Finland and the Baltic Republics escaping the war or the destruction it created; it was also a neutral destination for many Jews. In 1944, there were more than 40,000 refugees in Sweden; while many returned home after the war, a considerable group number remained, mainly Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, whose home nations were incorporated into the USSR.

In 1952, Sweden, Denmark and Norway formed the Nordic committee , creating a area of free trade and freedom of movement, which Finland joined in 1955. With this, thousands of migrants came to Sweden to work in industry, mainly from Finland but also from Norway, which had not yet discovered its oil reserves. This increased the percentage of the immigrant population from 2% in 1945 to 7% in 1970. All this helped Tage Erlander (Prime Minister of Sweden between 1946 and 1969) to create the project "Strong Society", aimed at increasing the public sector and the welfare state. However, this influx of labour began to harm native Swedish workers and, as a result, in 1967, trade unions began to pressure Erlander to limit labour immigration to the Nordic countries.

In 1969, Erlander resigned from position and was replaced by his protégé, Olof Palme. Palme was a member of the most radical sector of the Social Democrats and wanted to further increase the welfare state, continuing his predecessor's project on a larger scale.

In order to attract a larger workforce without angering the unions, Palme began to use pro-refugee rhetoric, opening Sweden's borders to people escaping dictatorships and war. At the same time, these people were to be moved to industrial neighbourhoods, built especially for them in nearby industrial areas where they would work. At the same time, Palme tried to make Sweden attractive to immigrants through assimilation policies in favour of multiculturalism.

During this period, people of many nationalities began to arrive in the country: from those fleeing the conflict in Yugoslavia or martial law in Poland to those fleeing the Middle East and Latin America. These new populations settled far from the native Swedish population centres; as a result, many neighbourhoods of the working-class class became isolated ghettos. In 1986, Palme was assassinated and his successor, Ingvar Carlsson, changed immigration policy and began accepting only those who qualified as agreement refugees according to UN standards.

During the 1990s, increased conflict in places such as Somalia, Yugoslavia and several African nations led to an increase in the flow of war refugees, many of whom came to Sweden. In 1996, the Ministry of Migration and Asylum Policy was established. However, the two largest movements of people from foreign countries would occur in the aftermath of the Iraq and Syria conflicts. Fredrik Reinfeldt's conservative government began to take in large numbers of Iraqi refugees, who in 2006 became the second largest minority in the country after the Finns. In 2015, Stefan Löfven's social democratic government opened the border to Syrian refugees, who arrived en masse, fleeing the Syrian Civil War and the push by Daesh.

This succession of waves of Middle Eastern migrants exacerbated some problems: in many neighbourhoods, outsiders do not feel at home in Sweden, mainly because they were built 'not to be Sweden'; moreover, difficult integration and low-paid jobs fuel gangs and organised crime. All this led Löfven to implement a stricter migration policy in 2017, accepting fewer asylum seekers and starting to expel those whose asylum applications had been rejected.

As can be seen, the tendency in Sweden is to open the borders to immigration when it is necessary and to close them when it starts to provoke social tensions.

Origins of the immigrant population

Sweden has become an ethnically diverse society, with almost 22% of the population having a foreign background. Until 2015, the largest ethnic minority in Sweden were Finns, who numbered more than 200,000 at the turn of the century. In the wake of the Iraq war and the Syrian migration crisis, people from the Middle East have become the largest group.

Currently, 8% of Sweden's inhabitants come from a Muslim-majority country - mainly Syria and Iraq, but also Iran - although only 1.4% of the population practises the Muslim religion (around 140,000 people in 2017), as there are also immigrants from these countries with other religious affiliations, such as Christians, Druze, Yazidis or Zoroastrians. These numbers may have increased slightly, although not to cause very drastic changes in demographics.

Although not particularly large in number, the Muslim community has generated media attention as a result of various controversies. In 2006, Mahmoud Aldebe, a member of Sweden's Muslim committee , wrote to the Riksdag political parties and the Swedish government with particularly controversial demands, such as the right to specific Islamic holidays, special public funding for the construction of mosques, that all divorces between Muslim couples be approved by an imam, and that imams be allowed to teach Islam to Muslim children in public schools. These demands were rejected by the authorities and the Swedish political class . It has also been the case that some Muslim associations or mosques have invited radical preachers, such as Haitham al-Haddad or Said Rageahs, whose lectures were eventually banned.

Vulnerable areas and organised crime

The Swedish government has designated some neighbourhoods as Vulnerable Areas (Utsatt Område). These are not strictly speaking "No-Go Zones", because they can be entered by police officers, health services or the media. They are lower security areas that require more attention from the authorities.

Some of them are in Malmö, a city with the highest crime rate in the country, mainly due to its location. Malmö is on the other side of the Oresund Bridge, which connects Denmark with Sweden and is the only land route between Sweden and the mainland without having to go around the Baltic. Here, various gangs and mafias are involved in drug and human trafficking, while at the same time fighting each other in a struggle for control of space. Groups from this subject are also active in Rotterdam, in connection with the activity generated by its important port.

Despite the impression given by certain anti-immigration messages, crime in Sweden is at levels similar to those of 2006. After that year, the issue crime rate dropped, only to rise again in 2010 and 2012. A link could be made between this rise and the economic crisis, which led to an increase in unemployment, but the link with immigration records is less clear. The arrival of Iraqis in 2005 did not lead to increased insecurity on the streets of Sweden, nor has the influx of Syrians in recent years. Sweden's homicide rate is 1.1 per 100,000 inhabitants - lower than in many other European countries - and more crimes are recorded by native Swedes than by foreigners, according to the Swedish National Crime Prevention committee .

However, the mafias operating in Sweden are mostly composed of certain ethnic groups. Their training derived especially from the influx of people from Yugoslavia, both workers in the 1970s and refugees from the Balkan wars in the 1990s. The main such group, known as Yugo Mafia, is today led by Milan Ševo, nicknamed "The Godfather of Stockholm". Other groups include K-Falangen and Naserligan, made up of Albanians; the Werefolf Legion, made up of South Americans; and the Gangsters, originally from the Assyrians (Syria's Christian minority). However, one of the largest is Brödraskapet or the Brotherhood, founded in 1995, with more than 700 members who are all native Swedes and with a strong presence in Swedish prisons.


Migratory movements in Sweden between 1850 and 2007. In red, arrival of immigrants; in blue, departure of emigrants [Wikipedia-Koyos].

Migratory movements in Sweden between 1850 and 2007. In red, arrival of immigrants; in blue, departure of emigrants [Wikipedia-Koyos].



There have been three terrorist attacks in Sweden since 2011; a fourth attack was prevented by early detection of its preparation. The first was carried out by Anton Lundin Pettersson, a Swedish neo-Nazi who in 2015 attacked the Trollhättan School, killing four people, all of them immigrants. The next was perpetrated by the Nordic Resistance Movement, a neo-Nazi organisation, which targeted a refugee centre and the café of a left-wing organisation; only one person was injured in the attack. The third, and best known, was perpetrated in 2017 by a man from Uzbekistan, apparently recruited by Daesh, who drove a truck into pedestrians in central Stockholm, killing five people and injuring fourteen.

Of the three attacks, only one was jihadist-motivated, in contrast to the importance of Islamist terrorism in other European countries with larger Muslim populations. In any case, the segregation experienced in some communities and the radical indoctrination that takes place in them led young Swedish Muslims to leave for Syria to join Daesh, and the authorities are closely monitoring their possible return.

Hits and misses

For a long time, Sweden was held up by the European left as an example of successful social democratic model ; now, by certain right-wing groups, it is being held up as an example of failed multiculturalism. Both claims are probably exaggerated for partisan purposes. However, the truth is that Sweden has a generous welfare system that is proving difficult to maintain, and that in its generous opening of borders it has made mistakes that have not facilitated the integration of the new population. Everything seems to indicate that Löfven is continuing along the path that began in 2017 and has increased police presence on the streets as well as a toughening of immigration policies, following in turn the policies of Denmark.

Time will have to pass to see what results these policies will have in a future Sweden.

*In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a huge, majestic hall that heroes aspire to enter in the afterlife.

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