Swedish-Assyrian MP says integration is the key

There are major concerns about the rising star of the far-right anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party, which won 17.5% of the vote in recent election.
Monday 15/10/2018
Flen, some 100 km west of Stockholm, Sweden has welcomed so many asylum seekers in recent years that they now make up about a fourth of the population

With the post-election political situation in Sweden still uncertain, questions remain as to what direction the Scandinavian country is heading.

There are major concerns about the rising star of the far-right anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party, which won 17.5% of the vote in the recent election. However, in ethnic minorities’ favour, there are five ethnically Assyrian MPs in Sweden’s Riksdag.

“The Assyrian-Swedish community is well-represented in Swedish politics and is one of the most successful immigrant groups in Sweden. Ethnic minorities… who have fled a political system are generally more successful in Sweden and therefore in Swedish politics. For example, there are ten Swedish-Iranian MPs and six Swedish-Kurdish MPs in the parliament,” said Swedish-Assyrian MP Robert Hannah, a member of the Liberalerna party.

“I would guess that we will see some Syrian refugees in the Swedish parliament in the coming generations,” he added.

Hannah said he was not surprised by the rise of the Sweden Democrats, a far-right group with neo-Nazi roots that campaigns strongly against immigration, because mainstream political parties failed to challenge the Sweden Democrats and speak up on migration and integration.

“When the Sweden Democrats entered the Swedish parliament in 2010 the other political parties stopped talking about integration of immigrants and the big problems with unemployment, ‘honour’ violence, radicalism and gang violence we have in some immigrant dominated neighbourhoods… For years, the government didn’t talk about migration and integration and the problems grew,” he said.

“If the next government fails in bettering the integration, in particular of Syrian refugees, and doesn’t fight the problems we have in immigrant neighbourhoods, the Sweden Democrats will continue to grow.”


Swedish-Assyrian MP Robert Hannah

The Assyrian community is one of Sweden’s most successful immigrant groups, with immigrants from Lebanon first arriving in the country in the late 1960s. Other Assyrian immigrants moved to the country starting in the 1970s, particularly from Iraq, Iran and Syria, often fleeing unrest in the Middle East.

Official figures state there are about 150,000 Assyrians in Sweden, most living in and near Stockholm. However, many things have changed in Sweden since the country opened to large-scale migration and the recent wave of migrants and refugees from Iraq, Syria and other countries has been greeted with a different economic and social situation.

“In the ’80s Sweden was an industrial country where anyone could find a job in a factory. Also, there were ethnic Swedish people who lived in every neighbourhood. Today, Sweden does not have many industrial factory jobs and people who come to Sweden need to have educational skills; therefore it’s harder for a refugee from the Middle East to find a job,” Hannah said.

“Furthermore, there are neighbourhoods with no ethnic Swedes living there. There are kids who are raised in Sweden but who never have had any ethnic Swedish friends.”

Integration of migrants and refugees was a major concern for many Swedish voters. In 2015, Sweden accepted more than 160,000 migrants seeking asylum — the most of any European country per capita, Swedish authorities said. The Sweden Democrats, like other populist far-right parties across Europe, was able to use migration fears to win votes.

Hannah stressed that the situation was very complex and cannot be viewed solely through a prism of ethnic nationalism. “There are parts of the Assyrian, Kurdish, Iranian and even Arab communities who are supporting the Sweden Democrats since they don’t want radicalisation to grow and they don’t want the system of their own home countries to be implemented in parts of Sweden. This is a sad development but not surprising, given the situation in Sweden today,” Hannah said.

As for new arrivals from Iraq and Syria, he said the Swedish-Assyrian community was in general endeavouring to make them feel welcome.

“I would say that the Assyrians from Iraq who have come in recent years are less educated than before and a lot more war-torn,” Hannah said. “They have been raised in a failed state. The Assyrians from Syria are very well educated and need less time to learn Swedish because of this. On the upside there is now a huge Assyrian-Swedish community that can help new Assyrians in Sweden.”

The Swedish government quickly tightened its asylum laws but the country, like many others in Europe, is dealing with the wider repercussions of this.

“Sweden has been a role model for the world when it comes to openness and humanity. These values are now being challenged by failed integration and by the growing number of Swedes who support the Sweden Democrats,” Hannah said.

“The coming years in Swedish politics will have to focus on fighting radicalisation and ensuring that immigrant neighbourhoods stop deteriorating. The school results, crime level and employment have to be raised to a Swedish standard for the Swedish model to survive.”