AP, Feb. 4, 2007
While Sweden is receiving immigrants in record numbers, few voices are calling for closing the borders.
To be sure, a small far-right party has been making advances and there are growing concerns that minorities are not integrating well. But so far, surveys show attitudes toward immigrants remain remarkably positive, and the new center-right government says it has no immediate plans to stem the tide.
Once an ethnically homogenous nation, Sweden became more diverse through immigration after World War II. The biggest groups of recent arrivals come from the Balkans, Iraq and former Soviet republics.
A preliminary report from Statistics Sweden estimated that 96,800 immigrants entered Sweden last year — an increase of 48 percent from 2005. It said more people migrated to Sweden last year than during any year since records began to be kept 131 years ago.
Some 9,700 Iraqis came last year compared with 2,900 the year before, according to the report. Sweden opposed the U.S. intervention in Iraq and did not send troops.
The number of Polish citizens in Sweden increased from 3,400 in 2005 to 6,500 last year.
The European Union’s Eurobarometer survey released last month showed Swedes had the most positive attitudes toward immigrants in the bloc, with 77 percent saying immigrants contribute a lot to society. In Germany, only 30 percent agreed. The EU average was 40 percent.
The rise of the far-right Sweden Democrats, who have grown but so far have failed to get enough votes to gain a seat in Parliament, has raised concerns that the anti-immigration tide seen in much of Europe will spill over into Sweden, where about 12 percent of residents are foreign-born. In the south, in particular, residents have blamed immigrants for a rise in crime.
Still party members predicted it would continue to grow toward the heights of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which has about 15 percent support in Denmark. Other strong anti-immigration parties include France’s National Front and the Flemish Interest Party in Belgium.
The Moderate Party, however — the biggest faction in the center-right alliance taking office next month — says it will challenge the views of Sweden Democrats head-on, and Moderate secretary Sven Otto Littorin ruled out cooperating with the party on any level.
(Posted on February 6, 2007)