The integration issue
The Swedish population grew by more than 100,000 in 2014. This was the result of record high immigration (127,000) and more births than deaths. But more than 50,000 people also chose to leave the country.
Refugees from active war zones continue to immigrate to Sweden. In 2014, there were over 80,000 asylum seekers, with the three largest groups being Syrians, Eritreans and people with no state or country (stateless). Only Germany received more asylum seekers than Sweden in 2014, followed by Italy and France.
Head of the press unit at the Swedish Migration Agency, Fredrik Bengtsson, says: ‘The year 2014 was the second highest level on record for asylum seeking applications; second only to 1992 when more than 84,000 people, many of them fleeing the former Yugoslavia, requested asylum in Sweden.’
This is because Sweden grants permanent residence permits to all Syrians who are in Sweden seeking asylum. Since the war in Syria started, around 70,000 Syrians have come to Sweden.
In 2014, every fifth immigrant was from Syria, making Syrians the single largest immigrant group. This makes for a change since usually, most people moving to Sweden are actually returning Swedes.
More and more children come to Sweden without family. From the ten countries in the chart above, around 9 per cent were so-called unaccompanied minors.
Integration – a hot debate
Every sixth person of the current Swedish population was born in another country. What happens after immigration remains one of the hottest debates around the country. These debates highlight just how complicated and conflicting the issues surrounding diversity are – from studies praising Sweden’s integration policies to articles showing just how far Sweden still has to go in terms of integration.
The riots in some Stockholm suburbs in 2013 put the spotlight on some of the challenges of integration. Many international media covered the disturbances.
A more recent topic for debate concerns beggars, an increasingly common sight on Swedish streets. Many of them come from Romania and Bulgaria, and many of them are Roma. Their presence provokes and raises questions: Why are they here? What can Sweden do? The European Commission’s Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) is one initiative aiming to help the most vulnerable people, in Sweden as well as in other EU member states.
According to the Swedish Migration Agency’s prognosis, the number of asylum seekers will continue to be high in 2015 and 2016. A DN/Ipsos survey from March 2015 shows that six out of ten Swedes feel that immigration is mainly beneficial for Sweden. At the same time, six out of ten Swedes feel that integration works badly.
The main crux of the debate remains how best to integrate migrants from different countries into the Swedish workforce and society, how to provide them with opportunities and ensure they have equal rights.
Mouhanad Sharabati, modern refugee
Meet Mouhanad Sharabati, a 30-year-old lawyer from Syria. Graduating from Damascus University Law School in 2006, he practised law in both Syria and Lebanon.
In 2011, he co-founded Syria Relief Network, a group of humanitarian aid NGOs that helps displaced Syrians, many of which are in neighbouring Lebanon. It also provides legal assistance for Syrian refugees and those crossing the Lebanese borders illegally.
He also worked with the Kayany foundation, an NGO based in Beirut that aims to meet the needs and ensure the rights of children of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
In a cruel twist of fate, Mouhanad has now been living in Sweden for close to six months as a displaced Syrian himself.
‘I didn’t choose to leave my country, I was compelled to leave,’ Mouhanad says. ‘I was a graduate student about to defend my Master’s thesis project when I found myself having to leave my country.’
At that time, he was faced with only two choices: leave the country or stay and be forced into military service to fight with Syrian regime forces in their war against the Syrian people. ‘This is something I couldn’t even imagine doing so I decided to leave,’ he says.
A safer place
Leaving his beloved Damascus in order to preserve his personal safety was a difficult decision for Mouhanad because he knew he probably won’t be able to go back to Syria until its political situation has changed.
‘Despite feeling bad and the guilty emotions I had about leaving my country, when I think logically about it, I believe I made the right decision,‘ he says. ‘I miss everything – home, family, friends and the old days, but I have to admit that Syria is no longer a suitable and secure place where I can live, work and have a family.’
Thousands of Syrians have fled to Europe in search of better lives, including many close friends of Mouhanad. ‘My friends who reached Sweden before me told me about the good treatment and respect of human rights here,’ he says.
‘Sweden is a place where I can start over and live a respectable life and think of having a job, family and children.’
Mouhanad’s opportunity to live a safer and more comfortable life came when he was granted a Schengen visa and then residency in 2014.
He chose Sweden for two main reasons. ‘First of all, it is a secure place where I can finally feel physically and psychologically safe; a place where I can start over and live a respectable life and think of having a job, family and children,’ he says.
His second reason has to do with Sweden’s reputation on human rights issues, which was very important to him.
An inclusive society
Having spent less than a year in Sweden, Mouhanad understandably doesn’t speak Swedish fluently yet, but he regularly attends language classes. Learning the language has helped him socialise and make friends with locals, and he feels he has already integrated well into Swedish society.
‘Speaking English made it easier for me to communicate with others since almost everybody speaks English here,’ he notes.
He strives to keep an open mind and positive attitude towards his new life in order to adjust faster, trusting his Swedish friends who have explained different customs and everyday know-hows.
‘It is a privilege to be a resident of Sweden where people are respected regardless of religion, belief, colour, appearance and nationality,’ Mouhanad says.
‘Having rights just because you are a human being is a great feeling.’
Mouhanad Sharabati was interviewed by Lola Akinmade Åkerström.
Video: ‘If you were forced to flee from Sweden?’
Young Swedes talk about how they would feel about being forced to leave their home country.
This film is a part of the project ‘Homestead – somewhere in Sweden’, by ROT produktion: nagonstansisverige.se.