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Valar Qringaomis

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Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth (Sweden and Refugees)

The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth

"The system worked — or at least that was the Swedish consensus... “When the Bosnians came,” she pointed out, “people thought they would bring their war to the Swedish suburbs. There were neo-Nazis marching in the streets. The economy was at the lowest point since the 1930s.” Nowadays, she says, the Bosnians “are ministers in our government, they’re our doctors, our neighbors.” Swedes feel especially proud that they have so successfully integrated a Muslim population. Pelling was confident that the new wave of Syrians, Iraqis, and the like would do just as well. It seemed almost impolite to point out that, on average, the Bosnians were better educated than the newcomers are, and practice a more moderate version of Islam.

Sweden is the only country I have spent time in where the average person seems to be more idealistic than I am...

The past may be a poor guide to the present. The 160,000 asylum-seekers who came to Sweden last year is double the number it has ever accepted before. I met many critics who were prepared to raise impolite questions about whether Sweden could afford to lavish generous benefits on so large a population, whether it could integrate so many new arrivals with low levels of skills, whether a progressive and extremely secular country could socialize a generation of conservative Muslim newcomers. And that was before Cologne.

Diana Janse, a former diplomat and now the senior foreign policy advisor to the Moderate Party (which Swedes view as “conservative”), pointed out to me that some recent generations of Swedish refugees, including Somalis, had been notably unsuccessful joining the job market. How, she wondered, will the 10,000-20,000 young Afghan men who had entered Sweden as “unaccompanied minors” fare? How would they behave in the virtual absence of young Afghan women? But she could barely raise these questions in political debate. “We have this expression in Swedish, asiktskorridor,” she said. “It means ‘opinion corridor’ — the views you can’t move outside of.” Merely to ask whether Sweden could integrate Afghans today as it had Bosnians two decades before was to risk accusations of racism...

The Migration Agency accepts applications from thousands of people from Eritrea, a nation that is autocratic but currently peaceful. When I asked Pierre Karatzian, a spokesman for the Migration Agency, why Eritreans qualified, he said that many Eritreans flee the country rather than face the draft; if Sweden returns them, they will face arrest. This, however, permits the authoritarian Eritrean government to play a cynical game in which they let citizens flee and then demand that they pay a tax on their relatively lavish earnings abroad — a kind of involuntary remittance. (I was told that Eritrean embassies track down citizens abroad and demand payment.) The system guarantees a perpetual flow of Eritreans...

Sweden provides asylum to virtually anyone who arrives as an unaccompanied minor. Some of them, however, were certainly not minors. Since they arrived without documents, officials simply accepted their word for their age. Denmark, among others, mandates age-testing, a somewhat rough-and-ready system using measurements of bone density. In Sweden, however, doctors have largely refused to apply the test, arguing that it is inexact and that, in any case, such tests constitute an invasion of privacy. Andersson said to me that a “minor” who looks to be 30 or so will be told, “You cannot share a room with the boys. You have to go to the Migration Agency and find a [new] room with them.”

Back at the Red Cross station, opinion was surprisingly anti-refugee, including among volunteers. The translator said that he did not believe many of the new arrivals would ever be able to integrate into Sweden’s liberal, individualistic society. A border policeman told me, “Last summer, my grandmother almost starved to death in the hospital, but the migrants get free food and medical care. I think a government’s job is to take care of its own people first, and then, if there’s anything left over, you help other people.” I had heard the same view a few months earlier in Hungary, the country in Europe most outspokenly hostile to refugees — the anti-Sweden. Europe has not experienced economic growth in almost a decade. One could hardly think of a worse moment to ask citizens to make sacrifices on behalf of outsiders. In the United States, where growth has been more robust, the fountain of charity has run dry as well.

I had, it turned out, arrived in Sweden at the very moment when the supply of goodwill was petering out. A poll in early November found that 41 percent of Swedes thought the country was taking too many refugees, up from 29 percent in September... When I said to Paula Bieler, a member of Parliament from the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party, that most Swedes seemed to welcome refugees, she rejoined, “Mostly the Swedes who haven’t met them. It’s the top politicians and journalists who live in the center of Stockholm.” That’s hyperbolic; Swedes have proved remarkably willing to accept a burden most other Europeans wish to shuck. Nevertheless, the intelligentsia generally view the refugees as a new contribution to Sweden’s tapestry of diversity, while ordinary Swedes may think in more prosaic terms.

The reaction against the refugees has put wind in the sails of the Sweden Democrats, as it has all over Europe. Far-right parties now rank first in polls in France, Switzerland, Austria, and elsewhere. A poll last August found that slightly more Swedes identified with the Sweden Democrats than any other. This has terrified both the ruling Social Democrats and the Moderates, who have forged a tight alliance in order to keep the Sweden Democrats from power...

Paula Bieler of the Sweden Democrats describes herself as a “nationalist” who fears that an increasingly multicultural Sweden is in danger of losing its identity — “the feeling that you live in a society that is also your home.” Bieler objects, not to immigrants themselves, but to the official state ideology of integration, which asks Swedes as well as newcomers to integrate into a world that celebrates diversity, and thus casts Sweden as a gorgeous mosaic. Are native Swedes to think of their own extraordinarily stable thousand-year-old culture as simply one among many national identities? Thomas Gur, a widely published critic of Sweden’s open-door policy, says that it is precisely this reaction that accounts for the popularity of the Sweden Democrats.

There are more visceral fears, which cannot be raised inside the opinion corridor. “You cannot talk about concepts like marriage, shame, honor,” says Gur. “You cannot talk about social trust.” The fear is that the recent generations of refugees have become isolated from Swedish life, as has happened with North Africans in the French banlieues, the slums that have become incubators of alienation for many North African immigrants. Gur says that 20 years ago, Sweden had just three residential areas where significant numbers of citizens did not work and did not have access to good schools — the indispensable instrument of social mobility in Sweden’s high-tech economy. That number, he says, has now reached 186. I visited several of these areas in Malmo, and they looked vastly cleaner, smaller, and safer than any American inner city. But for Sweden, it’s something new, and troubling.

What is certainly true is that refugees take far too long to join the workforce and remain unemployed in far larger numbers than native Swedes. Tino Sanandaji, an economist and critic of refugee policy whose work has become so controversial in the Swedish media that he asked me not to name his university, says while 82 percent of adult Swedes are in the workforce, only 52 percent of immigrants from non-Western countries are — a gap that has grown rapidly in recent years. (Since virtually all Swedish immigrants arrived as refugees, the two words are often used interchangeably.) While only one-fifth of Swedes fail to graduate from high school, the figure for immigrants is one-third. Sanandaji points out that the consequence for Sweden’s generous state is a sharp increase in welfare payments, 60 percent of which go to immigrants. Sanandaji predicts that the new refugees will have an even harder time adjusting than their immediate predecessors have. Despite widespread reports that Syrian refugees are drawn largely from the educated middle class, statistics compiled by the Swedish Migration Agency show that half the new arrivals do not have a high-school degree, and one-third have not progressed beyond ninth grade. The figures are yet higher for the Afghan unaccompanied minors.

An observation that is now taken for granted in the United States — that values matter, that they are transmitted culturally, that they can be only partly changed by social institutions — is treated in Sweden as a form of racism, as well as an implicit admission of failure...

Virtually everyone I spoke to on the pro-refugee side insisted that Sweden was not paying a price for its open-ended commitment to refugees, but rather gaining a benefit, albeit a long-term one. I often asked what this new generation of newcomers was going to do for work. Sweden has virtually no space for unskilled workers; I’ve never seen a more automated, do-it-yourself economy. (You don’t just check yourself in at the airport; you scan your own suitcase.) The answer was always the same: Sweden’s “aging population” would provide vast job opportunities in personal health care. Maybe that’s true, though old people in Sweden seem awfully self-sufficient. You can’t push someone’s wheelchair if they’re going to cross the street on their own...

The refugee issue has split Sweden’s genteel consensus as no other question has in recent memory. As Ivar Arpi, a columnist at the daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and an inveterate critic of the country’s refugee policy, said to me, “People have lost friends over this; families are divided against one another. I’ve had agonizing discussions with my mother and my little sister.” It is very hard to find a middle ground between “we must” and “we can’t.”...

Since the right to 450 days of parental leave per child enshrined in Swedish laws also applies to women who arrive in the country with children under seven, refugees could qualify for several years’ worth of paid leave — even without working, since unemployed women also receive maternal benefits. She was convinced that Sweden needed to end the practice of giving Swedish social payments to refugees, not only because it was unaffordable, but because Sweden had no interest in out-bidding its neighbors to woo refugees.
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