Moral Low Ground

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Swedes React to Government’s Decision to Welcome Syrian Refugees

Immigrant women in Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb known for its large immigrant population. (Photo: Luke Blacks)

Immigrant women in Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb known for its large immigrant population. (Photo: Luke Blacks)

Earlier this month, the Swedish government announced it would offer blanket asylum to all Syrians fleeing their country’s two-year civil war, a brutal conflict which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

While Sweden has an international reputation as a compassionate, liberal society that throws open its doors to refugees from around the globe, the government’s decision to welcome this latest wave of asylum seekers seems to have as many– if not more– detractors as it does supporters. Moral Low Ground spoke with a number of Swedes from various parts of the Nordic nation to gauge their opinion on the matter.

One characteristic of the Swedish people which matches their worldwide reputation is their strong sense of responsibility to assist those in need, regardless of where they may come from.

“I think it’s great that Sweden receives as many refugees as possible, because all people deserve a better life without war and killing,” says Stefan Christophs, a 40-year-old who lives in Södertälje, a small city located about 22 miles (35 km) southwest of the capital, Stockholm. Nearly 40 percent of Södertälje’s 65,000 residents have foreign backgrounds, and this proportion is increasing by about 1.5 percent each year.

Sadeer Iskandar, one of Södertälje’s many immigrants, agrees with Christophs.

“I think it’s good that we all take responsibility to help those in need,” says Iskandar, a 38-year-old manager whose Chaldean Christian family fled Iraq at the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war.

“Most Swedes think everybody should have a sanctuary,” 48-year-old Gothenburg resident Jonas Scheldt agrees, “but Sweden takes more foreigners than any other country per capita, and we have done so for many years.”

While Scheldt, a platinum-selling music producer who has traveled the world and counts many friends from diverse cultures, lists various ways in which immigration has benefitted his country– enriching the cultural, culinary and labor landscape– he has also adopted what he considers a realistic approach to additional immigration.

Street market in Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb known for its high concentration of immigrants. (Photo: Luke Blacks)

Street market in Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb known for its high concentration of immigrants. (Photo: Luke Blacks)

“More and different people bring more to the table,” he says. And “in a dream world,” he would support his government’s decision to open the floodgate of Syrian refugees.

“The people of Syria are hard-working people, which I respect. The ones I’ve met are really good and really nice people,” he says.

But, he asserts, “the 4.3 million taxpayers out of 9.4 million Swedes simply can’t afford” the new arrivals.

“We don’t have homes, health care, jobs and welfare enough even for ourselves. You should not invite when you can’t deliver,” Scheldt warns.

The problem, say some of the Swedes we talked to, isn’t that there isn’t enough space or resources for refugees, but, as Iskandar says, “certain cities take all the responsibility.”

“In Södertälje, all refugees have the legal right to choose where they want to move when they receive their residence permits,” says Christophs. “Most of them choose Södertälje because there are usually relatives who live there, but the city gets no more money from the government for the extra costs.”

“All municipalities get the same funds, so a town that takes in 10 refugees gets the same amount as Södertälje, which takes in a lot more, and this stresses the system,” agrees Iskandar.

Södertälje, by the way, has the distinction of having taken in more more refugees from the Iraq war than the entire United States– the nation that precipitated the monumental refugee crisis by starting the war– and Canada combined. This fact is not lost on many Swedes.

Fans cheer on Assyriska Föreningen, an Assyrian soccer club from Södertälje that plays in the Superettan, Sweden's second-highest league. (Photo: Groundhopping Merseberg)

Fans cheer on Assyriska Föreningen, an Assyrian soccer club from Södertälje that plays in the Superettan, Sweden’s second-highest league. (Photo: Groundhopping Merseberg)

“I think it’s really bad that some countries receive so few refugees,” laments Christophs. “I hope we can force countries to take responsibility.”

“The world should split the responsibility,” agrees Scheldt. “All countries should contribute. Especially Russia, the United States and Israel, since they seem to care so much [about what happens in Syria].”

Some of the Swedes we spoke with singled out their Nordic neighbors for particular scorn.

“I would like Finland to take some refugees; they hardly have any,” says Jenny Weibert, a 38-year-old mother and business developer from Gothenburg.

“The other Scandinavian countries grant asylum to approximately 5,000 people per year,” Scheldt points out. “Sweden grants asylum to approximately 100,000 per year, and approximately 90 percent of these are Muslims.”

And here’s where things get a bit sensitive, especially in such an overtly politically correct society as Sweden. Most immigrants, says Scheldt, are “Muslims from harsh backgrounds and traditions.”

“Approximately 10 percent of Sweden today are Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa,” Scheldt continues. “Most of them don’t work. They breed like rabbits. They want special Sharia law. They don’t want music in schools. They’re against homosexuals, abortion, human rights. Some Swedes are becoming afraid of what’s to come in the future.”

Street scene in Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb that is home to a large concentration of immigrants. (Photo: Luke Blacks)

Street scene in Rinkeby, a Stockholm suburb that is home to a large concentration of immigrants. (Photo: Luke Blacks)

Fear for the future of their country. It’s a theme echoed by some of the other Swedes we interviewed.

“Afraid, yes that’s the right word for Swedes,” agrees Weibert.

Fear of increasing crime, which many Swedes blame on the increased immigrant population, is palpable.

“Since we are a socialist country with a ‘humane’ way of thinking, we have been creating problems for ourselves,” argues Weibert. “We have a huge problem right now with segregation and ‘hoods.’ And that’s only because we’ve opened our arms to everybody without having the ability to take care of all the people in the right way. So now we are having problems in Gothenburg with shootings, which take place almost every day now.”

Immigrant crime is a serious concern among many Swedes

Immigrant crime is a serious concern among many Swedes

“Crime has gone sky high,” concurs Scheldt. “There were five shootings last week in Gothenburg.”

Such crimes were virtually unheard of a generation ago.

There are other crimes that Swedes blame on immigrants.

“In Malmö the Jews are being persecuted by Muslims because of Israel’s wrongdoing,” adds Scheldt. “Sweden also now has one of the world’s highest rates of rape. When I was young, we didn’t have to lock our doors. Girls are afraid to walk home in the evening. There’s more violence, missing people, trafficking, drugs, killings [and] abuse of the welfare system.”

“Sweden has never been like this before,” Scheldt says. “My 75-year-old father has been knocked down and robbed twice in the past two years. My sister got stabbed.”

Robin Teberio Robertson, born in Sweden to Filipino immigrant parents, says that more recent immigrants, “from ex-Yugoslavia, Somalia and Iran, to name a few, are forming gangs– violence is on the rise.”

“Not that I blame the immigrants,” says Teberio Robertson, who grew up in Gothenburg, “but more the system. The government needs to find a way to better integrate the various cultures and, if they choose to stay, find a way to work off what was given to them. This way they can feel proud and earn the help.”

Teberio Robertson also sees the need for immigrants to help themselves.

“Deep down, I feel that we have a moral obligation to help anyone who needs help, but if people don’t want to help themselves they will always be a lost cause,” she says.

The issue of assimilation, or lack thereof, was foremost on the minds of some of the Swedes we interviewed.

“Immigrants and refugees today tend to enter in groups and receive a lot of attention and aid– financially, housing, clothes, food and more,” Teberio Robertson says. “They have a hard time melting into society because they don’t need to.”

“I understand that people from the same country and same culture want to live together,” acknowledges Iskandar, “but the problem is that it makes it very difficult to melt into the new society.” Also, “these ‘satellite communities’ get stuck in time and do not evolve,” leading to many of the problems mentioned earlier in this story.

“There are so many immigrants here now that new arrivals don’t need to learn Swedish or our culture. It’s becoming a problem in Södertälje,” asserts Christophs. “The biggest problem is probably that most immigrants choose to live together and do not learn the Swedish language and culture.”

But immigration also allows “Swedish society and culture to grow,” argues Iskandar.

“If I compare what Sweden looked like when I came here, it’s like night and day. Without joking, garlic was an exotic spice back then,” he adds.

Be that as it may, the stress on Sweden’s internationally vaunted but seriously stressed social welfare system is such that the benefits of additional immigration are negated by hard economic facts in the eyes of many Swedes.

“The social system, schools, health care and infrastructure are not what they were 20 years ago,” says Scheldt. “The bill is too high, and the media and our government try to hide it.”

“We need to clean up the mess we already have here before we bring more people into this dysfunctional society,” concludes Weibert. “We should take care of our children, our elderly and everybody right here before we go and give away everything to the rest of the world.”

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