The Corner

Sweden: Reversing Course?

The Guardian:

Sweden is to reject up to 80,000 people who applied for asylum in the country last year, as many as half of whom will be forced to leave against their will, according to official estimates. The interior ministry has called on police and migration authorities to prepare for a sharp increase in deportations, and to arrange charter flights to expel refused asylum seekers to their country of origin. Sweden is also approaching other EU countries, including Germany, to discuss cooperation to increase efficiency and make sure flights are filled to capacity, it said.

The country received more than 160,000 asylum applications last year – by far the biggest influx in the EU as a proportion of the population. Between 60,000 and 80,000 of them will be rejected, the interior minister, Anders Ygeman, told Swedish media on Thursday.

The revelation that a large proportion of asylum seekers will be turned down, and as many as half of failed applications will be forcibly ejected, sends another signal to refugees that Sweden is no longer extending the warm welcome it offered to them just a few months ago.

The signal may be the point here. As the Swedish government knows very well, the deportation procedure is likely to be prolonged (and it will make for a good living for a large number of lawyers): The underlying aim of the change in approach is better understood as an attempt to discourage future migrants from arriving — and to reassure Swedish voters. 

Writing for CapX Nima Sanandaji takes a look at the historical background:

In 2010 the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats gained enough votes to enter the parliament.  Sweden’s then center-right Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt chose to react with a somewhat unusual strategy: Reinfeldt signed a deal with the opposition Environmental Party, He has later explained that the ambition was to isolate the Sweden Democrats from power and influence.

Let’s unpack that. That the Sweden Democrats had risen from almost nowhere was a response to legitimate voter concerns over immigration, concerns that could not find a hearing in any of the other major parties. Worse, even to raise those concerns was rendered taboo by Reinfeldt, an authoritarian in libertarian camouflage who didn’t appear to get the whole democratic debate thing. So when the SD made its way into parliament, we read that Reinfeldt doubled down, “transitioning towards nearly free immigration”, a strategy designed, he claimed, to “isolate” the SD.

Well, if that was his motive it was as counter-productive as it was childish as it was destructive.


Four years later Reinfeldt’s government was voted out of power. The opposition parties on the left merely increased their voter support by 0.02 per cent. The anti-immigration party however doubled its share of votes, something the party – which historically has neo-Nazi roots – has done in seven consecutive elections. Swedish policies was turned into something of a mess, with the introduction of a third block whom nobody wanted to collaborate with. After some parliamentary turmoil, where a new election was announced but later cancelled, the four center-right parties agreed to not challenge the minority government formed by the Social Democrats and the Environmental Party.

I wrote about that particular post-democratic stitch-up back at the time here.

And the failure of the parties on the left to increase their share of the vote at the 2014 election is a precedent that Germany’s center-left SPD may now be beginning to ponder. There are signs that, in the wake of Germany’s migrant crisis, it may be losing support to the AfD, an upstart party of, these days, the populist right.

But back to Sanandaji’s melancholy chronicle:

The new [center-left] government continued [the] pro-immigration policies. Sweden, with its generous welfare systems, proved to be quite a magnet for migrants. At the end of 2015, Sweden was receiving 10,000 immigrants per week. As my brother Tino Sanandaji, an economist critical of the current policies, has pointed out, this can be compared to an annual rate of 25,000 immigrants a year during the period 1990-2010. Reinfeldt’s policy shift, coupled with the breakdown of the European border and the Syrian crises, had moved an already generous immigration policy to almost free immigration.

The cost of receiving new immigrants proved quite high. A significant share are youths without adult companionship who come from Afghanistan. It seems that many are Afghanis who have migrated to Iran and, not satisfied with the life there, turn to Sweden. Under the current policies, the cost of giving support to a single youth who comes without adult companionship, is annually upwards to € 100 000. In the last part of 2014 the system came under considerable stress.

Finally, the Social Democratic prime minister Stefan Löfven reversed policies. Or as The Guardian has phrased it, in the end of November 2015 “Sweden slam[med] shut its open-door policy towards refugees”. When announcing this policy, Åsa Romson – the Environment and ceremonial Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden, who is one of the two leaders of the environmental party – had tears in her eyes.

If you want to see the pathology in pathological altruism (with added narcissism!), Romson’s tears are a good place to start.

And for those who see asylum-seekers as the answer to Sweden’s (largely imaginary) demographic crisis, Sanandaji has a bracing statistic or two:

[T]he Swedish welfare state is far from successful when it comes to integrating immigrants on its labour market. The median refugee granted asylum in Sweden during 2004 merely earned £880 a month ten years later. Amongst family immigrants of refugees the level was as low as £360. This of course points to many living of various forms of public support. This is not a sustainable situation in a generous welfare state, where the public system expends much on various social programs, health care etc. are high for all residents.

The rise of the SD has continued since the last election:

Lastly, the support for the Social Democrats has been falling significantly. A leading survey published on the 23rd of January found that the Social Democrats are only supported by 23.2 per cent of the Swedish electorate. This is a record low number, and quite a shock for a party that for long has dominated Swedish policies with support of around 40 to 50 per cent of voters in many elections. A poll-of-polls shows that the Social Democrats on average have 23.9 per cent of the support, closely followed by the conservative Moderates (the party previously lead by Reinfeldt) who have 23.2 per cent and the Sweden Democrats who have 21.0 per cent of the support. Since the latter party systematically has a higher actual share of support in elections than in polls, one can say that the vote is evenly split between the three parties.

And finally the two largest establishment parties have begun to react:

The Moderates have already moved from the idea of free-immigration to quite strict policies. Adapting to the challenges ahead, the Social Democrats have followed suit.

Thus the talk of deportations. 


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