Swedish Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman faced criticism after stating that the country should follow Denmark and seek to limit the concentration of people with immigrant backgrounds in the most troubled areas of its cities.
Experts warned that Ygeman’s proposal hints at “state racism” that would fuel ethnic divisions instead of fighting them.
“It brings to mind the apartheid system and state racism,” said Fereshteh Ahmadi, a leading Swedish expert on migration and integration who is a professor of sociology at the University of Gavle.
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement that “the Swedish government must immediately and unconditionally cease any plans of such nature.”
Inspired by Denmark, “he wants to classify the population as ‘Nordic’ and ‘non-Nordic,’” Ahmadi added.
Initially she was surprised by Ygeman’s allowing himself to be inspired by Denmark’s hard line, but now “it has been several years that we’ve seen changes in the political debate in Sweden, not only from the right-wing parties but even from the Social Democrats, that we’ve seen a harshening of attitudes towards immigrants,” she said.
In Denmark, the forced displacement of immigrants from one area to another is yet another integration policy imposed by the country’s Social Democratic government “which seems to have normalized xenophobia in the last decade,” Ahmadi noted.
The country has gone as far as classifying its citizens as "Western" and "non-Western."
Ygeman, however, does not agree with such terms.
“There’s a colonial touch to it. I think ‘non-Nordic’ works just as well to describe the problem,” he said.
The minister however suggested that there is an issue with the fact that in some Swedish districts, the majority of the population comes from non-Nordic backgrounds.
“I think it’s bad to have areas where the majority have a non-Nordic origin,” he said.
In other words, the government would decide who gets to live where, and this proposal “is difficult to take seriously, and it is terrifying,” said Ahmadi.
The effect of this policy would be to categorize people ethnically in terms of Nordic “basically speaking white people, or non-Nordic, which would include a large number of immigrants coming from non-European countries, the Middle East, Africa and so on,” warned Charles Westin, a leading sociologist from Stockholm University.
Westin pointed out that this is not a way to deal with integration but “a racist approach.”
“What comes to mind is the (former) system of apartheid in South Africa or other kinds of state racism,” he added.
He said the way forward is to combat discrimination and racism and “not to sort of have the government or societies impose racial categories.”
The Swedish migration minister’s proposal to put a 50% cap on “non-Nordic citizens” in so-called “troubled areas” is a “textbook recipe for discrimination, incitement and counterproductive punitive measures emanating from political expediency rather than sound policymaking,” the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said.
Ramy Abdu, chairman of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, said “it is shameful to see the Swedish government sliding into a populist abyss in which singling out and targeting vulnerable foreigners is used for electoral aims.”
Forceful assimilation never works
There is no doubt that integration is an issue in Sweden. However, forceful assimilation policies have never proved successful in countries such as France, where assimilation is an official policy.
Immigrants are expected to abandon their cultural backgrounds and essentially become fully French. But as a consequence, France became the most segregated country in Europe.
To ensure better integration, immigrants need active help from the society and “better resources as well as an anti-discrimination policy” that will ensure equal treatment and opportunities for all, said Ahmadi.
“Classifying inhabitants as ‘Nordic’ and ‘non-Nordic’ essentially can cause prejudgments within the society, risk ethnic tensions and create ethnic gaps, she added.
The rhetoric proposed by the Swedish minister would lead to resistance among the immigrants and would instill fear and mistrust, but it also “stands in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and EU law vis-à-vis the rights to non-discrimination, equality, and adequate housing, as well as the right of equality before the law and equal treatment before tribunals,” said the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.
Celebrating and “encouraging diversity” where cultural identities are allowed to coexist is key for “successful anti-discriminatory integration,” said Westin.
Suggesting that one ethnic background is superior to another rather deepens the segregation and “brings to mind state racism,” Westin underscored.