In 2015, Sweden witnessed a historic number of applications from asylum seeking migrants. Of the nearly 163,000 applications, over 40% were from children, and at least half arrived in Sweden without guardians. The vast majority of refugees are coming from environments of intense conflict in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey. This influx of migrants has posed a challenge to Sweden’s limited educational and residential infrastructure and is steadily challenging the nation’s reputation as one of the world’s most welcoming states.
A recent Al Jazeera investigation into the “turning tide” of perspectives towards migrants, explains the developing concerns held by certain Swedish nationals. The video catalogs a series of interviews with native Swedes, columnists, professors, and politicians painting a grim perspective of the growing rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. The interviews artfully depict the residential and educational problems Sweden faces in absorbing the refugees, often citing the recently increased crime rate as justification for the general sense of fear. In the case of the small community of Ostra Goinge, there is simply not enough housing, jobs or resources to provide a new life for the migrants. More importantly, in the eyes of the local Swedes, stretching existing resources to accommodate for immigrant children would signify a diminished focus on their own children’s education.
The investigation fails to provide a balanced view of Swedish efforts in providing education for immigrant children by presenting a seemingly ubiquitous fear amongst Swedes, average citizens and politicians alike. It hints at migrant profiling by police and border control, a significant rise in the right-leaning Sweden Democrat party proposing to “pause” the immigrant flow and the need to foster better “social integration”.
By contrast, an article published by The Guardian nearly two months later, lauds the exhaustive efforts of Swedish schooling at providing equal education for the migrant children. Rothschild shows the reader a more familiar Swedish utopia, an exemplar welfare state trialing initiatives “…to ensure newly arrived children do not fall through the gaps and all schools bear the pressure equally”. Swedish schools like Falksbergsskalon are providing bilingual education in both Swedish and Arabic to migrant children in hopes of integrating them socially by developing academic skills and promoting language practice. Government efforts include bussing migrants to different schools and implementing school migrant quotas as early as November 2016 in order to spread the perceived burden equally amongst districts. The issues Sweden faces are complex yet we are shown several hopeful quotes from happy, socially-integrated migrant children who believe their future is bright.
The kaleidoscopic view of Sweden’s immigrant influx epitomizes the refugee crisis that has engulfed Europe and continues to influence global refugee dialogue. As evidenced by the Al Jazeera investigation, there seems to be a similar rise in fear, isolation and concern over stretching resources in the world’s most welcoming state. Yet, according to Rothschild, there is a silver lining embodied by innovative educational reform. Whether or not the glass is in fact half-full, Sweden faces a more pressing metaphysical dilemma: how will it retain its national identity in the face of extreme internal pressure and social reorganization?
Jamjoom, Mohammed. Sweden’s backlash: Why the tide is turning for refugees. April 9th, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/inthefield/2016/04/sweden-backlash-tide-turning-refugees-160408180758209.html
Rothschild, Nathalie. On the Frontline: How Swedish schools are helping refugees. June 22nd, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2016/jun/26/on-the-frontline-of-integration-how-swedish-schools-are-helping-refugees
The Swedish Migration Agency. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.migrationsverket.se/English/About-the-Migration-Agency/Our-organisation.html