Swe­den’s lofty aim of ‘equal­ity for all’ tested

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MALMO, Swe­den: Aneta Moura, who em­i­grated to Swe­den from Greece 43 years ago, says the last eth­nic Swede has moved off her street in Malmo’s Rosen­gard neigh­bour­hood and youths with noth­ing to do hang out on the streets at all hours. “I no longer know any of my neigh­bours,” laments 81-year-old Moura. Grow­ing seg­re­ga­tion be­tween eth­nic Swedes and im­mi­grants is emerg­ing as a ma­jor con­cern in Swe­den, a coun­try that has for decades prided it­self on its egal­i­tar­ian ideals and where most low-skilled jobs have been elim­i­nated in a bid to do away with much of the “class so­ci­ety” that went with them.

The coun­try’s in­abil­ity to in­te­grate im­mi­grants is pre­oc­cu­py­ing the Swedish pub­lic and pol­i­cy­mak­ers now that Swe­den is tak­ing in record num­bers of refugees who will even­tu­ally need to find work to be­come ful­lyfledged ac­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety. Many won­der what kind of jobs th­ese new im­mi­grants - many of whom are un­e­d­u­cated, some even il­lit­er­ate - will be able to hold down in Swe­den’s knowl­edge-in­ten­sive labour mar­ket.

Moura, who came to Swe­den to work in its boom­ing fac­to­ries half a cen­tury ago, says the loss of man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs has made it harder for new­com­ers to in­te­grate. “We have a lot of youths stand­ing on the streets all night right where I live,” she said. The Scan­di­na­vian coun­try has long been Europe’s top des­ti­na­tion for asy­lum seek­ers per capita, with a record 190,000 ap­pli­ca­tions ex­pected this year. As the coun­try’s pub­lic ser­vices strain to cope with the in­flux, Prime Min­is­ter Ste­fan Lofven this week an­nounced a dras­tic tight­en­ing of Swedish asy­lum rules to stem the flow of mi­grants.

Many Ob­sta­cles to In­te­gra­tion In ad­di­tion to job woes, im­mi­grants try­ing to re­build their lives here face a slew of ob­sta­cles to their in­te­gra­tion. They in­clude learn­ing the lan­guage, find­ing hous­ing amid short­ages in big cities and ris­ing anti-im­mi­gra­tion sen­ti­ment with the far-right Swe­den Democrats gar­ner­ing up to 27 per­cent of voter sym­pa­thies in re­cent polls. Half of all refugees in Swe­den are un­em­ployed af­ter seven years and only 60 per­cent find work af­ter 15 years, ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Swe­den.

“What we pre­vi­ously thought was a good thing about Swe­den - elim­i­nat­ing sim­ple jobs... is now our big­gest chal­lenge when peo­ple from other coun­tries ar­rive,” said Andreas Bergh, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at Lund Univer­sity. “Un­for­tu­nately those types of jobs are ex­actly what you need for im­mi­grants from poorer coun­tries with less ed­u­ca­tion to quickly en­ter the job mar­ket,” he said. Un­em­ployed im­mi­grants on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety run counter to Swe­den’s aim to pro­vide equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­one to be­long to the ed­u­cated, pro­fes­sional sec­tor.

In Swe­den, for in­stance, day­care is heav­ily sub­si­dized to en­able all women to hold down jobs, which eight out of 10 do; child al­lowances are the same for ev­ery­one re­gard­less of need; rent con­trol is wide­spread; univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion is free; and the coun­try has a nar­row gap be­tween the high­est and low­est wages. In Malmo, Swe­den’s third largest city, 43 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion comes from an im­mi­grant back­ground.

With grow­ing num­bers of refugees from coun­tries like Iraq, So­ma­lia and Afghanistan, dozens of neigh­bour­hoods like Rosen­gard have seen rel­a­tive poverty lev­els rise and hous­ing con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rate. In 38 im­mi­grant-heavy sub­urbs, the av­er­age dis­pos­able in­come dropped from 83.8 per­cent of the na­tional av­er­age in 1997 to 69.7 per­cent in 2014, the left-lean­ing Ver­dandi group said in a re­cent re­port.

Is Tol­er­ance Detri­men­tal? Swe­den is of­ten rated in global sur­veys as one of the most tol­er­ant coun­tries on earth, but some say that tol­er­ance for other cul­tures could ac­tu­ally be one of the causes of seg­re­ga­tion. Aje Carl­bom, an an­thro­pol­o­gist at Malmo Univer­sity who lived in Rosen­gard as part of a project, crit­i­cised the coun­try’s pol­icy of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, which he said had en­cour­aged im­mi­grants “not just to keep, but even de­velop their own cul­tures”. “Peo­ple get stuck in a type of eth­nic net­work that makes it very hard to get con­tacts within the rest of so­ci­ety,” he said. —AFP

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