Sweden: Time for the government to address ethnic minority issues

For years, Sweden was considered to be a role model of a social state from a Diversity perspective. The government not only provided immense aids for families or young people, it also had a reputation for a very welcoming immigration policy. However, this ‘Nordic model’, which also included low unemployment, progressive politics, a social safety net and pro-diversity attitudes appears to totter. Increasing vandalism over the past weeks, which is a reaction on perceived injustice, is an alarming sign for growing inequality in Sweden’s society, raising questions over the country’s policies in related areas of immigration, unemployment and social equality.
The ongoing riots in Stockholm are a fierce wake-up call for Swedish authorities. For a long time, they have turned their backs on the dire social and economic situation of migrants and minority communities who are facing increasing social marginalisation, scarcer access to decent housing as well as high unemployment rates. According to the OECD, Sweden is the country where inequality is growing much faster than in any other developed nation. The richest fifth of the population owns three-quarters of the country’s assets, whereas 46 percent of non-European immigrants to Sweden are unemployed. This social gap drives segregation which is particularly affecting the immigrant parts of society.
But maybe the very situation, in which the Scandinavian country is facing such immense social issues, should not be considered a real surprise. Sweden has had an exceptionally high level of immigration, with about 200 nationalities represented among its 9.6 million people. About 1.8 million of those are first- or second-generation immigrants. So in 2010, almost 20 percent of the residents have had their roots outside Sweden. Knowing that this is quite a recent phenomenon, it makes sense that the situation has evolved into a ticking time bomb, depending on how society and public authorities deal with the new, pronounced societal diversity. But what can the Swedish government do to avoid future riots and to improve the quality of life and the standard of living for disadvantaged residents?
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has condemned both violence on the street by rioters and the ongoing institutional violence against migrants of successive Swedish governments, which have chosen not to address the deep-rooted causes of exclusion plaguing Swedish society. For instance, the Swedish police project ‘REVA’, originally aimed to crack down on irregular immigrants, has led to racial profiling in checking IDs and residency permits of anyone ‘foreign-looking’. Such practices are clearly discriminatory and undermine the rights of individuals. They also contribute to the exclusion and demonisation of particular communities. ENAR calls on the Swedish government to put measures and resources in place to remedy existing discrimination, high unemployment rates and segregation faced by ethnic minority communities as well as engaging in a dialogue with grassroots NGOs to develop an action programme to decrease tensions in communities and rapidly improve their socio-economic conditions. Those and different approaches will be necessary to stabilize the situation in Stockholm’s neighbourhoods. However, long-term solutions still need to be found in order not only to avoid future riots and ban social inequality, but also to re-install Sweden’s image of a leading country in diversity, equality and social affairs. Let’s hope that Sweden will exchange good practices with France, Germany, Holland or Belgium, where social inequalities relating to migrational background have been an issue for many years as well.