Sweden has taken in more migrants per capita than any other country in Europe. At the height of the crisis, about 10,000 migrants were entering Sweden every week. While it remains one of the most welcoming places for newcomers, Sweden has tightened regulations for immigrants and is requiring people to have passports to enter the country.
Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Morgan Johansson, Sweden's minister for justice and migration, about how Sweden has been dealing with the influx of migrants and what Europe should do about the crisis.
Interview Highlights: Morgan Johansson
How many migrants has Sweden taken in since the crisis began?
“Well, that depends on how you count them. Last year we had a record of 160,000 people coming to Sweden, applying for asylum, most of them from wars and conflict in the Middle East, for instance Syria and Iraq and of course Afghanistan.”
How many have been turned away?
“Well, many of them are still in the process, waiting for their applications to be tried by the court, but I can say that roughly up to two-thirds of them will be able to stay in Sweden, and about one-third will be expelled because, of course, we grant permission to stay if you can show that you are coming from a war zone, a conflict zone, and that you need protection and shelter. But if you can’t show the court that, your application will be turned down.”
How are those in the one-third being turned away unable to demonstrate they are coming from a war zone and need protection?
“Most of those are coming from other areas. We have people from the Western Balkans, for instance, and you have an individual case showing that you are persecuted in different ways in your home country. That’s what you have to show and we try every single case individually, but if, for instance, you are from Syria, well I could say almost 100 percent of people from Syria get permission in Sweden, but as you understand there’s lower rates if you come from different parts of Iraq. In some parts of Iraq, you will be able to stay in Sweden, but in other parts where it is calmer, we have to say, and well you are not living up to that standard in the Swedish legislation.”
Why have migrants decided to come to Sweden?
“I think Sweden’s reputation in the world has a lot to do with that. I’ve seen a lot when I’m travelling that Sweden is considered, by many, a country with quite high welfare standards, a country with tolerance and humanism, but also a country which has had peace for 200 years, and of course combined I think that makes many people who are fleeing conflict see Sweden as a country that they would really want to come to, even though we are a smaller country in the north of Europe where the living conditions in other ways might differ very much from conditions in the Middle East, that’s why, and also we have already taken so many people from other countries that many people have relatives in Sweden.”
Can Sweden afford to keep allowing migrants into the country, as well as pay for those already there?
“There’s two answers to that question. One answer is of course that, well, if we manage to get to all of these people, to get them into the labor markets and so they get a job and they can pay for themselves and they can also be a part of building our country, and we have had for decades now quite high numbers of immigration to Sweden. Still, over a number of years, we have also been able to control the unemployment rates and having them still at lower levels. But of course, that is the key issue here, if we can get a job to the people that come. The other issue is of course that Sweden has its limits. We can take on quite a number of people - I think we have a system that is probably the best in the world in order to take care of the people who come - but there are limits for us too. When we saw the tremendous increase in this autumn, I mean we had over 100,000 people come in four months. We had to say this is too much for us, we have to pull the brakes here, which we did. We introduced border controls, ID controls and we also now for a period of three years will change our legislation to be less generous than it has been before.”
Are you concerned that added restrictions are sending a global message that Europe is not welcoming or xenophobic?
“Sweden has said the opposite policy here. We’ve said that – we think that Europe can claim responsibility and I mean we are a continent or 500 million people. It would be possible for Europe to take quite a big responsibility here, but only if we share that responsibility. It cannot be up to one or two or three countries to shoulder that responsibility as it has been.”
Are you saying other countries in Europe need to take in more migrants and refugees, or that countries outside need to?
“Both, of course. I mean, we’re living in a world where there are 60 million people fleeing conflict and war, 60 million. That’s the highest number since the Second World War and I think that we must all be ready to take our responsibility and if not the rich countries in the world are not ready to do that, well then the poor countries will stand there as it is today, where most of the refugees are in poor neighboring countries to the conflict. So I think we have a moral responsibility to do this.”
Has it been discussed whether to offering some debt forgiveness to Greece in exchange for taking in a greater share of the migrants?
“Not that issue, but we have a decision saying that we should help Greece by flying people out of Greece to the other European countries to share that responsibility. There’s also decisions on the European council about helping Greece with that. But that has goon far too slow, I would say and there are still, I would say, around 50,000 people stuck in Greece up till now, so now all countries in Europe must do their share in order to fly people out of Greece.”
Can Europe stay together in the face of this crisis?
“Well I hope so, but that is much up to the politicians. Europe must show political leadership here and I see a lack of that up until now. I see politicians trying to play on conflicts between religions and ethnic groups, and that’s a very dangerous path to use. I can see why they are doing it, but still they are playing here with forces that can be quite problematic and in the end might end in violence.”
Who are you thinking of when you say that?
“Well, I would say Hungary for instance. When we decided that we should distribute refugees in Europe from Greece and Italy, the first thing that the Hungarian Prime Minister said that ‘well, we don’t want that, we’re going to arrange a referendum about that.’ A referendum about not taking any refugees and then expressing himself in terms of ‘this is about Christianity against Islam.’ That is a way of playing upon this ethnic and religious differences that in the end are extremely dangerous and we as Europeans, all people should know what could happen if we start to play groups against each other. I mean, we have a history here that is quite frightening.”
Should the U.K. stay in the European Union?
“Yes, we need the United Kingdom in the European Union. I also think that the United Kingdom needs Europe in different ways and I really hope that they will stay in the Union.”
Who would you like to see as the next U.S. president, or do any of the candidates scare you?
“Well of course I fear - on the Republican side I think I see things that are quite scary. Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, they are far from ideals that are mine. On the Democratic side, I think that Hillary Clinton will be the best candidate in order to lead this great nation that the United States is.”
This segment aired on April 21, 2016.