The Refugee Crisis: Looking to Sweden's Experience

Sweden is one of Europe's major havens for refugees seeking security and a better life. But even in a place with a reputation as a refuge, complexity abounds.

The Øresund Bridge between Malmo, Sweden and Copenhagen, Denmark. It is best known internationally from the Swedish/Danish TV series “The Bridge.” Sweden also recognizes its Swedish starting point, Malmo, as the home of 20,000 immigrants, most of them Muslim.

My husband and I spent four days in Stockholm, Sweden in late summer of this year. The city is as lovely as everyone imagines. It is arranged on an archipelago of 14 islands at the mouth of Lake Malaren leading into the Baltic Sea. With a population of less than one million, it is manageable, the historical architecture pristine, and there are fabulous tourist attractions. What I didn’t expect to see were beggars; apparently immigrants.

This led me to wonder how tolerant the Swedes are with their immigrant population. Since the refugee crisis has not been resolved and hundreds of thousands are trying to reach a safe haven, this is a relevant question. My search led to some shocking information.

Sweden granted more than 31,000 asylum applications last year for refugees. According to Pulitzercenter.org, Sweden will be taking in 95,000 outsiders in 2015, many of them refugees. In a country with only 10 million people, this represents the largest per capita commitment of any country in Europe (at least at the time of its writing). More recently, Germany’s offer to accept 800,000 to live among its 80million citizens make it a strong competitor.

Accepted, But Not By All

On April 17, 2013, two writers from Eskilstuna, Sweden wrote in Reuters online, “An influx of refugees from countries such as Syria is fueling a backlash against immigration in Sweden, for years seen by victims of conflict as a bastion of tolerance.” This had evidently been going on for a long time. On July 11, 2010, Haaretz, a news service from Israel, reported that Jews were abandoning the city of Malmo because of intimidation and acts of violence against their property. The perpetrators were the more recent Islamic immigrants who evidently were reacting to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The irony is that the victims had been immigrants themselves, both after World War II and in the 1960s. Now, more recent transplants of a different faith were persecuting those that had been in the same situation earlier.

Wrap-Up

What is new here is that immigrants may behave badly against other immigrants in their welcoming country, for me an unexpected and sad situation. Obviously, the refugee crises is more complicated than almost anyone can fathom.

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