Sweden takes in more refugees per capita than any other European country, and immigrants – mainly from the Middle East and Africa – now make up about 16 per cent of the population. The main political parties, as well as the mainstream media, support the status quo. Questioning the consensus is regarded as xenophobic and hateful. Now all of Europe is being urged to be as generous as Sweden.
So how are things working out in the most immigration-friendly country on the planet?
Not so well, says Tino Sanandaji. Mr. Sanandaji is himself an immigrant, a Kurdish-Swedish economist who was born in Iran and moved to Sweden when he was 10. He has a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago and specializes in immigration issues. This week I spoke with him by Skype.
“There has been a lack of integration among non-European refugees,” he told me. Forty-eight per cent of immigrants of working age don’t work, he said. Even after 15 years in Sweden, their employment rates reach only about 60 per cent. Sweden has the biggest employment gap in Europe between natives and non-natives.
In Sweden, where equality is revered, inequality is now entrenched. Forty-two per cent of the long-term unemployed are immigrants, Mr. Sanandaji said. Fifty-eight per cent of welfare payments go to immigrants. Forty-five per cent of children with low test scores are immigrants. Immigrants on average earn less than 40 per cent of Swedes. The majority of people charged with murder, rape and robbery are either first- or second-generation immigrants. “Since the 1980s, Sweden has had the largest increase in inequality of any country in the OECD,” Mr. Sanandaji said.
It’s not for lack of trying. Sweden is tops in Europe for its immigration efforts. Nor is it the newcomers’ fault. Sweden’s labour market is highly skills-intensive, and even low-skilled Swedes can’t get work. “So what chance is there for a 40-year-old woman from Africa?” Mr. Sandaji wondered.
Sweden’s fantasy is that if you socialize the children of immigrants and refugees correctly, they’ll grow up to be just like native Swedes. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Much of the second generation lives in nice Swedish welfare ghettos. The social strains – white flight, a general decline in trust – are growing worse. The immigrant-heavy city of Malmo, just across the bridge from Denmark, is an economic and social basket case.
Sweden’s generosity costs a fortune, at a time when economic growth is stagnant. The country now spends about $4-billion a year on settling new refugees – up from $1-billion a few years ago, Mr. Sanandaji said. And they keep coming. Sweden automatically accepts unaccompanied minors. “We used to take in 500 unaccompanied minors a year,” he said. “This year we are expecting 12,000.”
Yet Sweden’s acute immigration problems scarcely feature in the mainstream media. Journalists see their mission as stopping racism, so they don’t report the bad news. Despite – or perhaps because of – this self-censorship, the gap between the opinion elites and the voters on immigration issues is now a chasm. According to a recent opinion poll, 58 per cent of Swedes believe there is too much immigration, Mr. Sanandaji noted. The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party is now polling at between 20 per cent and 25 per cent.
Sweden is a cautionary tale for anyone who believes that Europe is capable of assimilating the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants who are besieging the continent, or the millions more who are desperately poised to follow in their wake. The argument that these people are vital to boost the economy – that they will magically create economic growth and bail the Europeans out of their demographic decline – is a fantasy.
It’s really very simple, Mr. Sanandaji explained. You can’t combine open borders with a welfare state. “If you’re offering generous welfare benefits to every citizen, and anyone can come and use these benefits, then a very large number of people will try to do that. And it’s just mathematically impossible for a small country like Sweden to fund those benefits.”
Skeptical observers worldwide look on Sweden's immigration policies as questionable at best, a disaster at worst. And Sweden is doubling -- actually, more like quintupling -- down on those policies as we speak. Unless, of course, the Sweden Democrats have anything to say about it.
And it looks like very soon, they will.