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

US Firms Concerned About China's New Cyber Regulations

New rules would require technology companies doing business in financial sector to hand over their source code, adopt Chinese encryption algorithms More

WHO Focus on Ebola Shifts to Ending Outbreak

Focus to be less on building facilities and more on efforts to find infected people, manage their cases, engage with communities and ensure proper burials More

US Scientist Who Conceived of Groundbreaking Laser Technology Dies

Charles Townes, Nobel laureate, laser co-creator paved way for other scientific discoveries: CDs, eye surgery, metal cutters to name a few technologies that rely on lasers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Webi
X
January 29, 2015 9:58 AM
Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video As Ground Shifts, Obama Reviews Middle East Strategy

The death of Saudi Arabia’s king, the collapse of a U.S.-friendly government in Yemen and a problematic relationship with Israel’s leadership are presenting a new set of complications for the Obama administration and its Middle East policy. Not only is the U.S. leader dealing with adversaries in Iran, the Islamic State and al-Qaida, but he is now juggling trouble with traditional allies, as White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid