Swedish parliament’s migration talks collapse

Talks between Sweden's major political parties over a new migration law have broken down.

Swedish parliament's migration talks collapse
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (L) and Moderate Party leader Ulf Kristersson, pictured during a parliamentary debate. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / TT

All Sweden's major parties have agreed that migration law needs an overhaul, and last year a Migration Committee, with representatives from all eight parliamentary parties, was set up to explore exactly how this should be done.

Recently talks have been taking place between the ruling Social Democrats and four right-of-centre opposition parties: the Moderates, Christian Democrats, Centre and Liberal parties.

The Social Democrats' junior coalition partner, the Green Party, has not been involved – something that has caused tension within the government.

Now, the Moderate Party's spokesperson for migration party says the five-way talks have collapsed.

“It's abundantly clear that the Social Democrats chose the Green Party over a sustainable, realistic migration policy. It's been made clear that the Social Democrats can't even stand behind a target which would mean reduced migration to Sweden compared with today,” the Moderate Party's Maria Malmer Stenergard told the TT newswire.

The proposal for a limit on how many asylum seekers and refugees can enter Sweden each year was one of the plans the Green Party criticised when news of the five-way talks emerged last week.

Malmer Stenergard said that the Social Democrats' proposed targets would have meant the same level of migration to Sweden as is the case today, and blamed the centre-left ruling party for the breakdown in the talks. She said the government had sided with the Green Party over the possibility of a deal.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven however said it was the Moderates who refused to compromise, saying his party “regretted” the failure to reach an agreement. 

The Migration Committee, with representatives from all eight parties in Sweden's parliament, is nevertheless set to meet on Tuesday when it expected to put forward proposals for a new migration policy. It will then be up to the political parties to decide whether or not to support the proposals. 

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OPINION: Racism doesn’t get much more obvious than Sweden’s refugee bias

When you look at Sweden's reception of Ukrainian refugees, it's clear that what was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria, is not considered good enough for white Christians from Ukraine, notes Stockholm University Professor Christian Christensen.

OPINION: Racism doesn't get much more obvious than Sweden's refugee bias

As thousands of Ukrainian refugees began to arrive in Sweden following the invasion by Russia, the headline of a recent opinion piece by the leader of Sweden’s far-right, anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat party spoke volumes: ‘There is a Difference Between Refugees and “Refugees”’

For Åkesson and his nationalist supporters, Ukrainian refugees are “real” refugees. They are from ”a Christian country with a culture that is more closely related” to that of Sweden, while refugees who escaped Syria and Afghanistan were framed as being made up of millions of backward, poorly-educated “professional migrants” (his term) devoid of European values and sensibilities.

With this backdrop, recent comments posted on Twitter by a municipal council member in Sweden’s second-largest city, Gothenburg, provided a disturbing insight into how politicians, not only the far-right but on all sides of the political spectrum, use different sets of standards when considering Ukrainian and Syrian refugees. And how the vision of refugees held by the Swedish far-right has bled into the Swedish political mainstream.

On May 5, Daniel Bernmar, the group leader for the opposition Left Party in the Gothenburg municipal council, sent a series of tweets in which he detailed how fellow council members expressed dismay over the poor services and paltry benefits available to refugees arriving from Ukraine. While on the surface an egalitarian position, the irony, Bernmar pointed out, was that the levels of financial support and services about which they were complaining were set by the very same group of politicians…when the arriving refugees were predominantly Syrian.

In other words, what the local politicians considered to be acceptable support for Syrians was now considered unacceptable support for Ukrainians.

Bernmar detailed a number of the specific concerns expressed by his colleagues.

Members of anti-immigration Sweden Democrats complained that the small amount of spending money given to Ukrainian refugees meant that they could not even afford to take local buses. Why, they asked, had the policy of allowing refugees to ride for free been scrapped? Others asked how without access to public transport Ukrainian refugees could be expected to take their children to school or look for work? And, in perhaps the most Swedish of issues, municipal councilors expressed concern that Ukrainian parents could not send children under the age of three to state-subsidized daycare.

Bernmar noted that he had “never before heard these parties or people address the unacceptable social or economic situation for refugees.” He then addressed the elephant in the room. The dismay expressed by colleagues over conditions facing refugees – conditions the same politicians approved when refugees were Syrian – was unsurprising, he wrote, given that they, “did not previously apply to white, Christian Europeans.”

These revelations should come as no surprise. While seemingly at odds with Sweden’s reputation for openness and egalitarianism, the fact is that political parties at both ends of the Swedish political spectrum have adopted increasingly aggressive anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Yet, when structural discrimination is presented in such a transparent fashion, it is still jarring.

At the most fundamental level, the case demonstrates how perceptions of the value of human life and human dignity are shaped by ethnicity, religion, and nationality. What was good enough for poor Muslims from Syria just isn’t good enough for white, European Christians. Racism and ethnocentrism don’t come much clearer than that.

But this revelation cuts even deeper and wider. And it applies to nations beyond Sweden’s borders, where immigrants and refugees struggle to construct new futures. What is evident from the comments made by the local politicians in Gothenburg is that they are fully aware of the impact of their policies on the everyday lives of refugees, how the ability to participate in the workforce, for example, is dependent upon basics such as transportation and childcare. That “integration” isn’t just a question of some mythological will, but of available material resources.

To remember that with Ukrainians, but forget it with Syrians, is cynicism of the highest order. It is to amplify the smear that there is a difference between refugees and “refugees.”

Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.