Sweden has historically been viewed as Europe’s most welcoming country for refugees, but observers say that changed in 2015 when the government decided to close its borders.
The election in September of a new government steered by the far-right Sweden Democrats has further tightened migration policy.
Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s Moderate Party, the Liberals and Christian Democrats constitute Sweden’s new ruling coalition. But observers say the Sweden Democrats, who have neo-Nazi roots and won the largest number of parliamentary seats, hold enormous sway over the coalition, setting far-reaching policies on migration and other key issues.
Observers say the Sweden Democrats have further stroked anti-immigrant sentiment over rising violence, some of which occurred in migrant communities.
Rights advocates criticize a deal the coalition and Sweden Democrats reached called the Tido Agreement, which gives the Sweden Democrats a powerful say in drafting new laws. The deal proposes a drastic reduction in the quota of refugees coming into Sweden, from 5,000 per year to just 900; consideration of an end to the permanent residence permit system; and the possible return of people who have "not integrated."
It also tightens requirements for Swedish citizenship and reduces the right to family reunification to the minimum set at the European Union level.
John Stauffer, legal director and deputy executive director of the Stockholm-based Civil Rights Defenders organization, says the Tido Agreement contradicts the human rights norms to which Sweden is bound by focusing on “harsher sentencing measures, undermining the rule of law and making it more difficult to be a refugee or asylum-seeker,” he told The Local, an online publication.
He says the deal’s proposals should be challenged, including stop-and-search zones, easier surveillance, elimination of benefits for newly arrived immigrants, and the detention of asylum-seekers while their asylum applications are processed, among others.
Swedish migration expert Anna Lundberg, a professor in sociology of law at nearby Lund University, told VOA that the Tido Agreement is not a legally binding document, and that it's unreasonable to implement these suggestions within given time frames.
"It’s easy to say that you should aim at the EU minimum level," she said, "but it’s not so clear what this minimum level actually means. … I assume that the government is also interested in considering knowledge about how legislation works in practice, if they want to achieve effect with their legislative changes. In that case, a thorough work is needed on the root of the problems they wish to solve.”
Law-abiding Afghan refugees in Malmo, who suffered religious persecution at home and in neighboring Iran, told VOA they felt particularly vulnerable to the proposals because they cannot return to either country, where they would face likely death at the hands of the Taliban and Islamic Republic rulers.
"I can understand their concern," Lundberg said. "Young people who have sought protection in Sweden without their guardians have been very badly affected by the restrictive changes in both law and legal application after 2015. Now that the new government is talking about a paradigm shift, I assume they want to clean the slate through collective regularization programs so that these young people can make a life for themselves.”
Rights advocates point out that it is not Afghan youth who are involved in gun violence and gang crime in Sweden, but such incidents may involve second- or third-generation migrants. They allege that arguments for stricter migrant controls are used by the far-right Sweden Democrats to distort perceptions.