Multiculturalism, cultural exchanges and shared knowledge can be argued as key factors to an ever developing society. With that in mind, argues Niklas Jakobsson, Sweden should not only be one of the most forward-thinking countries in the world – they should be blowing the other nations out of the water. What’s gone wrong?
According to official immigration statistics and a national census, 1.5 million of Sweden’s 9.5 million inhabitants were born outside of Sweden. This makes up for 15 per cent of the country’s population – numbers which are nearly unmatched and unrivaled in comparison to the other 205 sovereign states in the world.
Yet the country is following a worrying European trend with far-right parties gaining momentum, creating animosity and displeasure against immigrants and immigration. Unemployment, a rise in violence, an over-representation of immigrants in crime and ‘benefit fraud’ are some of the catch-phrases and slogans used to shove blame and responsibility on immigrants in Sweden.
A key concept in journalism is to have balance, to respect and cover both sides of a story – and in the case of Swedish immigration there are two very clear sides. In Sweden, you are for immigration, or you are against it. Wholeheartedly. There is little – to no – room for a middle-ground, a sensible debate that not only brings out the positive aspects of a liberal immigration policy, but discusses its flaws and where it needs work.
But ponder the possibility that these problems that have arisen in Sweden over the last decade might not have to do with where the immigrants are from, who they bring with them or how easily they are allowed to enter? What if it has to do with the fact that a large portion of immigrants are dropped in to a society that is closed, cold and requires a lot more effort to be integrated in? What if, integrating immigrants from day one will give them a lot more in the long run than just allowing them to enter the country without prerequisites and demands?
A question of figures
According to Swedish Member of Parliament, Hanif Bali, almost 14 per cent of immigrants are unemployed, compared to four percent for ‘native’ Swedes. This is a relatively staggering figure – and a figure that on its own could lead one to believe that it is unwillingness among immigrants to work that is the main issue. The Swedish Criminal Service does not distinguish between Swedish nationals with immigrant decent and Swedish nationals born in the country. However, they do claim that 32 per cent of prisoners in Swedish jails are foreign nationals with 160 nationalities represented. With all the overwhelming statistics put on the table – what should the debate regarding immigration then be?
The debate in Sweden should not revolve around how many immigrants are in prison, how many are unemployed or what benefits they are getting without fulfilling the right requirements. The debate should be about why immigrants are in prison, why immigrants are unemployed and why immigrants feel the need to claim benefits that could be distributed to other people – immigrants or natives – that are in greater need of them.
Because until the underlying issues behind the socioeconomic problems surrounding the Swedish society and its immigration policy are thoroughly investigated, the current downward spiral will only keep going down. The further down the spiral Sweden falls, the closer it will get to a point where there is no turning back – where the built up anger and animosity against immigrants and immigration will cause terrible events like the ones on Utøya, Norway, in 2011.
Lack of cooperation, respect and willingness to improve
Politicians, journalists and the common man should stop talking around each other and start talking to each other. Realizing that both parties have a common ground – the well-being of Sweden – would be the first step towards working together on an extremely complicated issue. But the way that the immigration debate is going only shows a lack of cooperation, respect and willingness to improve.
Unfortunately, the media plays a large role in creating this clear-cut split between pro-or-anti-immigration. A predominately left-oriented and humanistic media landscape shapes a narrative that allows for very little debate and alternative opinions. This has led to a surge in ‘free’ online news outlets which ‘highlight’ the ‘problems’ with immigration. In essence, by excluding and taking away the possibility of a healthy debate, the media fuels these websites, giving people on the fence that extra push towards a ‘news outlet’ which only caters to views that highlight negativity with immigration.
In a world where journalism should bring people together, nourish free speech and the right to an opinion, the Swedish media landscape is shooting itself in the foot. It is not only driving people away from reading traditional news, it is a major factor in the downward spiral that the Swedish society is in when it comes to debate surrounding immigration.
In order for Sweden to fully develop and take advantage of all the knowledge and benefits that comes from a cultural exchange and a multicultural society the country must start with embracing that it is not perfect. With every positive comes a negative. The positive will never be fully appreciated until the negative is dealt with. In the case of immigration, the negative is the lack of integration. If every Swede claims to have the country’s best interest at heart, then start by taking a step towards people with a different opinion rather than further distancing yourself. This applies to every politician, journalist and every other person in Sweden that has a single care about the future and prosperity of the country.