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Migrant Surge Tests Sweden's Open-Door Policy

  • Luis Ramirez

Sweden has long been a model when it comes to accepting immigrants, but the hungry, exhausted migrants arriving these days are putting the country to the test.

Volunteers provide food — and a welcome.

Sanna Leia Nilsson, one of the volunteers, said that in her hometown of Malmo there are a lot of immigrants, “and all of the cultures are just like a big mix. And that is what makes this town the best town in Sweden, if you ask me.”

Malmo is Sweden’s third-largest city, and immigrants make up nearly 40 percent of its population. But integration is far from complete.

“I have a lot of friends who are critical against Muslims and so on, but they do not know a Muslim,” Nilsson said.

As Muslim immigrants have moved into Malmo’s outlying neighborhoods, many native Swedes have moved out, and there are signs of blight.

In the Mollan neighborhood, some immigrants have found peace and prosperity.

Marwan Ibrahim, an immigrant and business owner, said Sweden was “the best country” for him.

“I was in Germany, I was in Holland, but this is the best country for me and for my children,” he said.

Ibrahim arrived in Sweden from Lebanon 26 years ago with no money and speaking no Swedish. He now runs a successful fruit-and-vegetable business. He sayid Swedes have given him a chance.

“They respect people,” he said, “not how [it is] in our country. You work, so you get what you want."

But things have changed in 26 years. Many more immigrants have come, and with Sweden’s unemployment rate at 7 percent, there are doubts that those arriving now will have the same success.

Many people don't find jobs, Ibrahim said.

“Maybe I have succeeded. I will say it. But now, it is very difficult," he said. "They come to this country late. It is too late. It will be a problem later. We are thinking later, what will happen with the new people coming now? What is going to happen after three or four years? No one knows.”

Sweden’s labor ministry is working to find asylum seekers jobs. But with more than 1,000 asylum applications coming in every day, Sweden is under pressure and is asking other EU nations to do their fair share to relieve it.