News / Europe

Riots Put Sweden's Open-Door Immigration Policy in Spotlight

Masked men are lined up against a wall by riot police in a Stockholm suburb, on the sixth straight night of riots, May 25, 2013.
Masked men are lined up against a wall by riot police in a Stockholm suburb, on the sixth straight night of riots, May 25, 2013.
Reuters
Sweden's worst riots in years might benefit a far-right party in elections next year if scenes of immigrants burning cars and smashing up buildings cause voters to rethink their traditional welcome to foreigners.
 
Even before the week of riots in the poorer neighborhoods of Stockholm, immigration had become a hot political issue, as the number of asylum seekers reached record levels.
 
The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party shot to third place in polls earlier this year and the riots could help them secure more political clout at 2014 elections.
 
The riots, where many youths torched cars and threw stones at police and rescue services, happened as violent attacks on soldiers in Britain and France, blamed on Islamist militants, raised urgent questions about intolerance and integration.
     
“It is tragic. This is not good for us as immigrants. It becomes harder for us to live here,” said
 
Rahimzadagan Abdolsaheb, 49, an Iranian-born taxi driver. “There will surely be more racism because of this.”
      
Many Nordic anti-immigration parties - backed by just a small minority in a region famous for its tolerance of minorities - lost support after Anders Behring Breivik, a white supremacist, murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011.
       
But they are once again on the rise.
 
Immigration Minister Tobias Billstrom broke government ranks earlier this year to say that Sweden's intake of immigrants was “not sustainable”.
     
Billstrom sparked furor when he said people protecting illegal immigrants were no longer “blonde and blue-eyed” but fellow migrants exploiting cheap labor.
 
Rising concern about immigration has coincided with worries about employment, with heavy job losses in the car industry and at companies including Ericsson and airline SAS.
      
Reflecting a hardening in rhetoric, pro-immigration Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, called the rioting “hooliganism”.
 
Increasing Polarization
 
Opinion polls show most Swedes support immigration and that many are more tolerant of foreigners than 20 years ago.
     
But while those opposed to immigration are in a minority, their number may be on the rise and could be further boosted by the riots.
       
“It will be a step to increasing polarization on the issue of integration in Sweden,” said Andreas Johansson Heino, a political scientist at Sweden's Timbro think-tank. “These kinds of things benefit parties like the Sweden Democrats.”
     
Some 43,900 asylum seekers arrived in 2012, a nearly 50
percent jump from 2011 and the second highest on record. Nearly half were from Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia and will get at least temporary residency. There was a total of 103,000 new immigrants.
 
Some 15 percent of Sweden's population is foreign born, the highest in the Nordic region. Asylum seekers in particular are drawn by Sweden's robust economy and tradition of helping refugees.
   
Sweden's liberal-minded mainstream parties are concerned about what happened in Denmark when an anti-immigrant party held the balance of power in the last government, pushing policies including tightening border controls that fuelled tension with other European nations.
       
The Sweden Democrats have advanced in voter surveys to nearly 10 percent from 5 percent at the last election in 2010. Before the riots, a poll by Novus showed around 20 percent of Swedes believed the Sweden Democrats had the best immigration policy.
 
“What is happening on the fringes of our big cities is a direct result of irresponsible immigration politics which have created deep divisions in Swedish society,” said Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson.
 
“These splits can't be bridged by building more recreation centers or by the police grilling sausages with youths.”
       
But there are also those who believe Sweden's asylum policies will remain intact after the disturbances and that the Sweden Democrats may have reached a poll ceiling.
 
“The government and opposition have made it very clear ever since the Sweden Democrats got into parliament it would not in any way affect Swedish immigration,” said Ulf Bjereld, professor of political science at Gothenburg. “They have kept their promise.”

You May Like

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs