Segregation in Sweden – us and them

residential segregation

When I was in the UK a few weeks ago, somebody told me that he follows Swedish news and politics with interest. He talked about how he always held Sweden up to be a good example of a humane society and how it seemed like the Swedes had succeeded – especially when compared to the UK. But the rapid rise of the right, and the increasing racism in Swedish society concerned him, and the increasing segregation between people was a disappointment. He saw Sweden as a society based on equality, but it was proving to be otherwise.

A disappointment. That was the word he used. Sweden is a disappointment.

According to DN’s recent study presented today, segregation has been increasing in Sweden during the last 20 years. Rich areas get richer and more ‘Swedish’. And the less fortunate areas, often where ethnic minorities lives, get poorer.

On average, 46  percent of all immigrants in Stockholm have immigrants as their nearest 400 neighbours. This can be compared to 24 percent of Stockholmers with Swedish background who have immigrants as their nearest 400 neighbours. In other words, the so-called ‘segregration differential’ is 22 percent (46-22). In 1991, this differential was 14 percent in Stockholm, so the segregration in the capital city has almost doubled over this period.

In Sweden’s other two largest cities, Gothenburg and Malmö, the segregation differential has gone, in the same period of time, from 14 to 25 percent and 16 to 22 percent respectively.

The Southern town of Kristianstad can ‘boast’ the fastest change in segregation – since 1991, segregation has increased from 6 percent to 27 percent. ould it be a coincidence that Sweden’s right wing political party have a stronghold in this area of the country? I think not.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, like everything, it depends on the perspective that you take. Looking at it negatively, with increased immigration, there is a real risk that society cannot keep up – accomodation isn’t built quickly enough, schools are not able to take in children, health systems do not have the capicity to process larger numbers. And with this lack of ability to handle increased pressure, society develops even more into a ‘haves’ and have nots’ and segregation increases.

But from a positive perspective, there are clear benefits for minority groups to live together with others who already have a  foot in Swedish society. Immigrants who are already integrated can help minimise a feeling of total isolation, can help with with work contacts, social issues, language and knowledge about Swedish culture.

This is obviously a complicated issue. And it’s an issue that’s not going away. Immigration is inevitable for a country like Sweden. Apart from the humanitarian perspective, Sweden needs new citizens to pay tax and support the social welfare systems.

It seems like the continuing challenge for Sweden isn’t immigration – it’s integration. And if we also are disappointed with the way politicians handle it, it’s up to us to act.

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