October 16, 2007
Stockholm, SE (View on map)
Author : Bruno
Before twenty years ago, the Swedish society was almost entirely made up of Swedes. The situation has changed since then, and Sweden is now one of the countries that allows the most foreigners in. Too many, say some. They claim that the new Swedes do not integrate with the local population and that their odds of keeping up with the Swedish society ideals are slim.
Sweden is very much aware of the uniqueness of its social welfare system. On top of that, Swedes are also very much aware that many regions in the world have a got less to offer to their citizens. Safety, food, and altogether, a decent level of living. It has led Sweden to take in huge numbers of immigrants from war zones and disavantaged areas around the world. The highest number of immigrants come from the Middle East, Africa and former Yugoslavia, with especially large numbers of Iraqi people present all over the Swedish territory. Sweden takes pride in being a safe haven for people, but many voices now claim that the country took it to far. Nationalism is on the rise, and it is mainly being fed by eruptions violence between Swedes and non- natives.
Immigration procedures are considered fairly light. For example: marriage to a Swedish person will instantly entitle you to live in Sweden, regardless of your country of origin and the duration of your relation with your partner. Once the papers are completed and entry is granted, newcomers are entitled to one year of state benefits. The government further provides free training in Swedish language to provide the newcomers good opportunities in society. But that is where the fairytale ends. The Swedish set of duties and rights may leave immigrants feeling a little lost. Many immigrants may have lived in fear rather than comfort - a fundamental difference, requiring fundamentally different patterns in behaviour.
One might expect that the capital city is suffering the most from problems between immigrants and native Swedes, but such is not the case. People in Stockholm are familiar with people from different backgrounds and they tend to have a more open-minded attitude towards them. Housing prices in Stockholm are very high compared to the national average. The immigrants living in Stockholm could not possibly pay their rent from government support money, which means that they can only live in Stockholm if they have decent and permanent jobs. Which in turns requires sufficient adaptation to Swedish work ethics.
Problems do arise in suburbs where the majority of the population is has foreign origin. Differences between local population and immigrants do sometimes cause severe problems in cities outside Stockholm. The goverment actively tries to spread people across the country, attempting to counteract segregation. Crime rates are significantly higher among immigrants, and the concentration of foreigners in certain areas is a main concern to the government. Distributing immigrants evenly across the country may sound like a good solution, but the differences between immigrants and the local population gets even bigger when moving away from Stockholm.
Anders (32) explains that the majority of Swedes think that immigration is a good thing, even though he is quick in naming the challenges it brings about. `Sweden used to be a country with very low crime rates that counted on the good behaviour of people. New entrants do not necessarily have the same moral codes as the Swedes.` Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries alike, count on the trustworthiness of its citizens. Responsibility is considered a standard character trait and respect is translated into not infringing on anybody`s property or personal sphere. Even engaging in conversation with somebody who does not invite you to, may be thought of as inappropriate.`
Most countries outside Scandinavia are more open and praise social contact between people. Many immigrants come from countries struck by war, and they may have a completely different set of values. They may have grown up in fear rather than comfort, with survival being more important than good citizenship. Compared to other countries, Sweden has a fairly long-term orientation, meaning that people are very careful about the consequences their behaviour may have: on others, on nature, on society as a whole. A thoughfulness that may not come natural to people from war torn zones. Also, the heavily advocated gender equality is not something that many non-Western immigrants have integrated into their way of thinking. Swedes generally despise the fact that immigrant women are not learning Swedish, because they de facto disqualify themselves as real members of society.
Another challenge is for foreigners to compete with the Swedes in job applications. When just looking at languages, you would fashionably be required to speak at least Swedish and English to get a decent job. For a foreigner to compete with that, he would not need to learn one but even two languages different from his/her mother tongue. Amed (17, photo) has been living in Sweden since he was two years old. He is fluent in Swedish, English, French and Kurdic and goes to boarding school in Sweden. He will manage to escape at least the language challenge, and having followed studies in Sweden will put him on par with native Swedes.
Many are not as lucky. Third level education is not as common in many countries as it is in Sweden. On top of that any studies an immigrant did pursue in the country of origin risk being looked down on, making it very difficult for newcomers to compete with the Swedes. Also, having a foreign family name may put them at the end of the line in job applications. Altogether, non- western immigrants will have a hard time finding their way out of government support. Which at the same time hampers them to gain acceptance as `real Swedes`. A fellow compatriate living on unployment benefit may not be raise fellow Swedes` eye browses. For foreigners however, it is even easily perceived as bad citizenship if the unemployed person is not a Swede.
Limited in their job choice, many immigrants have opened restaurants or created their own companies in construction. Cleaning is another alternative, and Ashraf (34) from Jordan says that it will take an entire generation for non-Western immigrants to be able to compete with Swedes for what he calls the nice jobs. Belinda (33) is from Kenya and came to Sweden in search for better life opportunities. She found it quite tough to return to the school benches but she was nevertheless highly motivated to quickly familiarise herself with the Swedish language. She now works as a nurse and enjoys her life in Sweden. She is not suffering from any direct discrimination against herself, she thinks she will forever be considered an invandrar, the Swedish word for immigrant.
In a contrast to the non-Western immigrants, Sweden is also the new home to many Europeans, Northern Americans and Japanese people. Both skin colours and family names help them integrate quicker. Western immigrants are considered to have come to Sweden to share their skills, while non-Western immigrants are easily suspected of having come to Sweden to take advantage of the social system. This is called smygracism, the subconscious racism that goes beyond the apparent but is very common. Only few non-Western Europeans manage to escape the prejudices. The current minister of Immigration is one of them. Emma (27) explains me that she serves as a good role model for immigrant women, showing that women can do what men can do. She has further managed to incorporate a wide range of political ideas in her message, making her a suitable spokesperson for many different interest groups. She is an exception however - being accepted as a Swede is a lengthy and complicated process, with only a small chance of success.