Sunday, 28 November 2021

Understanding more about migration


I was glad last week, when a former Swedish politician, Carl Bildt, said that Sweden had become a better country thanks to a large number of immigrants having come to the land since the 1960s. Today, about 20 percent Swedes were born outside the country. Most live in the big cities. Yes, in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo, and some other cities, with a large number of immigrants, there are problems, too, sometimes between immigrant groups and sometimes between other groups. This is all to be expected in places with a large influx of foreigners and migrants from rural areas on the land, especially if there is also high unemployment amongst the newcomers. Over the last couple of generations, hundreds of thousands have moved to the more industrialised and urban south where there are more job opportunities. Alas, sometimes internal migrants may not find jobs, they may not have the right skills and they may not be in good enough health to take on new and challenging jobs; some may even have to move several times in the south to find suitable jobs, which would be challenging for the adults and for school children and teenagers, if they have young ones in the family. It is the young generation that can take advantage of the new circumstances, with luck and hard work. But some of them may for a variety of reasons not succeed in spite of the good opportunities that exist with free education and more. Among the adults, it would not be uncommon that some Swedes out of the internal migrants, and others in the communities in the south, get laid off from jobs in a land with a capitalist working life and a social-democratic welfare system, hence, they will receive social security and possibly re-training if they are willing and capable, or, some may simply take early retirement. Generally, they would be alright enough, not entirely happy with “Gamla Sverige” and themselves, but most would be satisfied with the way the welfare state treats them.

The principle of the welfare state is that you can receive state benefits when you need it, not as charity but because it is your right. Nobody should stand with cap in hand and beg for handouts; every person is as valuable as the other. In our time, we sometimes forget these basic principles. The famous Scandinavian welfare state was created because it was a progressive way of organising the social sector; now, most of Europe has similar systems, and it is considered something to be proud of. Solidarity and a spirit of sharing is a principle in Sweden. That system is as good as the family welfare system in well-to-do families in Pakistan, and it is better and fairer than in the poorer families in Pakistan. In America there were few government social services, as in Sweden and Europe today. When immigrants and refugees come to Europe today, we should be glad that those who need help can benefit from the welfare state’s services for some years until they can become useful citizens in the new homeland. Right-wing political parties accuse immigrants for cheating and receiving benefits when they don’t need it. Some may, either they are immigrants or indigenous to the land. Some may get dragged into crime and substance abuse, too. And others receive less help than they are entitled to. Last week, there were some limited riots in Sweden, involving frustrated (or bored) young men in Rinkeby suburb, a Stockholm neighbourhood with a high percentage of immigrants, on the outskirts of the capital. I was glad that the media afterward reported that foreign immigrants are statistically more law abiding than the indigenous population.

I was glad when former conservative Swedish Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs for many years, Carl Bildt, defended Sweden robustly when President Trump, without having checked his data, used Sweden as an example of a country that had accepted too many immigrants over the recent decades. Bildt and other pillars of society came out and helped describe the contributions that immigrants make, and how good people most of them are. Fredrik Reinfeldt, the PM from 206-2014, also a conservative, is remembered as a pro-immigration politician. But today, Sweden has become more restrictive than before in receiving large numbers of immigrants, but it did receive almost one hundred thousand refugees last year, from Syria and other countries. Again, obviously there will be problems when many newcomers come to a far away country, Sweden, Norway and other countries. The integration process, with adjustment, language training, education and skills training and other programmes, must be given more attention than when small groups come. If that work is done well, the bottom line of the ‘immigration bookkeeping’ will be positive; the economy of the land will grow thanks to immigrants, not immediately but in the longer run. And immigrants can also be used to teach about their homelands cultures, religions, and ways of organising daily life and work.

I am from neighbouring Norway, but I studied in Sweden in the 1970s, at a time when the immigration wave had just started; at that time the countries wanted more flow and exchange of people, students, workers, and people who would settle for good. I was part of a research exchange programme under the Council of Europe; I almost settled in Sweden, but found a good job at home and therefore, did not stay. Refugees cannot go home soon, and other immigrants have come for good, too. It is important that ordinary people in the new lands try to understand the life of all groups of immigrants, and that they open their hearts and minds to the newcomers. It is sad when politicians don’t do their jobs right and spread misinformation about these issues – and it is heartwarming when Bildt and Reinfeldt in Sweden, and earlier, Angela Merkel in Germany, and other top politicians remind us of the value of migration, not the costs but the benefits. True, migration is not always planned, but part of how the world is; Swedes and other Europeans settled and built America; today, many immigrants help build Sweden and Europe – and who knows, maybe in a few decades, Europeans will migrate in larger numbers to the South, or they and others, may populate sparsely populated lands like Russia and Canada, even USA. The world belongs to us all and it has never been static. Cultures change and the garden of God becomes better when people share and are inclusive.

Atle Hetland

Check Also

Human activity to blame for coronavirus spread

Diseases such as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe could become more common as human ...