By Vikas Bajaj / The New York Times | on 03 March 2017
Are Immigrants Causing a Swedish Crime Wave? Sweden has always had more humanitarian migrants than the rest of Europe. For the last 10 years it has been seven or eight times the average in Europe. Since 2006, it has been a very high number of asylum seekers — first the Iraqis, then Somalis and Afghanis, and now, the latest wave from Syria.
Sweden has accepted more refugees on a per-capita basis than other Western nations in recent years. President Trump and his supporters say that this has led to increased crime and other problems in that country and argue that this is a reason the United States should accept fewer immigrants, especially those coming from the Middle East. Official data show that Sweden has not seen a spike in crime, though the influx has heightened anti-immigrant sentiment there. To better understand that country’s experience, I spoke to Henrik Emilsson, an international immigration researcher at Malmö University. The interview has been edited and condensed.
What has been happening in Sweden in recent years with regard to immigration?
Sweden has always had more humanitarian migrants than the rest of Europe. For the last 10 years it has been seven or eight times the average in Europe. Since 2006, it has been a very high number of asylum seekers — first the Iraqis, then Somalis and Afghanis, and now, the latest wave from Syria.
Is there any evidence that recent immigrants are having an impact on crime in Sweden?
Not the recent ones. There is a huge debate in Sweden about immigration and crime. And we know from earlier statistics that the foreign-born commit three times as many crimes on average as native-borns. But these riots and crimes in the suburbs, they are related mostly to drugs and gangs. Those people are born and raised in Sweden. It has nothing to do with the recent immigration. It’s the children of migrants and maybe people that came when they were young.
There has been this issue of sexual harassment. And there is some evidence that the new refugees are somewhat involved in this. But there are no official statistics on it.
What about terrorism?
Not particularly, because the people for example who have gone and fought for ISIS, they are also quite established — they are Swedes that have grown up here.
Why would people who have been in Sweden for a while, or their children, become radicalized? Does it have anything to do with the circumstances in which they grew up?
There is no evidence that this has anything to do with poverty or segregation or social exclusion. Some of them are highly educated while others are less educated. Some have good careers and some have studied at the university. It’s not easy to explain, there are no clear patterns. And some have parents who are not religious, but others have parents who are religious.
Have recent immigrants done more poorly in Sweden than people who came in previous decades?
It depends on how far back you look. For example in the civil war in Yugoslavia in the early 90s, it was a catastrophe when they arrived. There was the same panic. It took a long time for them to find jobs. But if you look at that group now, they are very successful. They have like 70 percent employment rate.
We don’t have these low-skilled jobs, so it takes a lot of training and education, and patience. Since 2006, the migrants have been more from failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia and Iraq, so they probably will have a more difficult situation. So in the short term it will be a big cost for society. In the long term maybe if they end up doing as well as Bosnians, it will be an asset.
Do you think that maybe the Bosnian — or, broadly speaking, the Yugoslav — experience is different because they are also European?
It’s mostly that often they were professionals. They didn’t necessarily have very high education, but they were specialists in different crafts. But they were mostly also Muslim, so it has less to do with religion, I think.
How would you rate Swedish policies toward integrating migrants, especially those who’ve come in the last five or ten years?
I think we have done a better job than most European countries. It’s just that we have taken in so many more that it is a bigger challenge. I mean if you compare the unemployment rate for refugees in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Sweden is the most successful. Also if you compare the same category of migrants in Canada and Sweden, they do just as well in Sweden as in Canada.