Problems in many municipalities are prompting Swedes to leave for other areas with fewer socioeconomic problems. Between 2012 and 2018, in the small town of Filipstad (population 10,000), 640 native Swedes left and 963 foreign-born people moved to the town. Jim Frölander, the municipality's integration manager, says: "We are experiencing a population exchange... it is simply a statement of fact..." Pictured: Filipstad, Sweden. (Image source: iStock)
Swedes are on the move. Problems in many municipalities are prompting Swedes to leave for other areas with fewer socioeconomic problems. The issue has recently gained the attention of the Swedish mainstream media.
Take the small, picturesque town of Filipstad (population 10,000), for example. Swedish television recently made a documentary about the town, which finds itself in both a financial and an existential crisis. "We are experiencing a population exchange. You can think of that what you want... But it is simply a statement of fact that this is actually what we are going through and we have to deal with it", Jim Frölander, integration manager in the Filipstad municipality, says in the documentary. Between 2012 and 2018, 640 native Swedes left the town, and 963 foreign-born people moved into the town. Those leaving are people of working age (20-64), which means that the municipality's tax revenues are shrinking, exacerbating town's financial crisis.
The largest influx of immigrants came during the migration crisis in 2015. Filipstad, according to the documentary, was one of the municipalities that received the highest number of immigrants as a percentage of its population. Claes Hultgren, head of the municipality, wrote in Filipstad's latest financial report:
"In Filipstad, there are around 750 adults from Syria, Somalia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Iraq.... In this group, unemployment and dependency are very high, while education levels are very low. This group runs the risk of ending in an eternal exclusion that is already heavily burdening the municipal economy."
Hultgren explained that many of the newcomers do not have the qualifications to enter the labor market.
"[They] are maybe too old and illiterate, or have a very low educational level. We must accept that there will be some people who will need the support of society for their livelihood."
According to the documentary, unemployment is at 80% among the non-Western foreign-born residents of the town, even while the town is suffering a severe lack of teachers and nurses. In ten years, Filipstad's expenditures on social welfare have increased 200% -- from 10 million kroner ($1 million) in 2009 to almost 30 million ($3.1 million) in 2018. The projection for 2019 is 31 million Swedish kroner ($3.2 million). This year, Filipstad simply does not have the 30 million kroner in its budget.
Filipstad is far from the only Swedish municipality to experience these problems.
As a consequence of taking in so many immigrants within a relatively short time span, not only during the extraordinary migration crisis in 2015 but overall in the years 2012-2017, municipalities are fighting high unemployment, a rise in child poverty and rising social welfare expenditures, according to Frölander.
"It becomes much more visible in smaller municipalities. There you cannot isolate it [the problem] in a suburb and then [pretend] 'business as usual', because it affects the entire body of that society and that is what is going to happen in all of Sweden, too."
Frölander is clear that he is not against immigration and thinks that the immigrants are "good people."
Every fourth municipality and every third region, according to a report by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL), had a budget deficit in 2018, wrote the journalist Lotta Gröning recently in an op-ed in the Swedish newspaper Expressen. Municipalities are supposed to receive an extra 5 billion kroner ($517 million) per year for three years, but Gröning writes that this sum is not nearly enough, as 22 billion kroner ($2.27 billion) is still "missing":
"There is simply not enough money for schools, and [health] care -- the core of the social democratic welfare state. The refugee wave put tremendous pressure, not least [on] poor municipalities and now the costs of social welfare are increasing. In addition, the population is getting older, and add to this a coming recession...
"The criticism [of the government] comes not only from local politicians, it also comes from former [Social Democratic] party leader Göran Persson, who warns about the municipalities' vulnerable position. LO's chairman Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, also a member of the party's executive committee, warns [Prime Minister] Stefan Löfven of the municipalities' crisis and demands action..."
Swedes are leaving their towns and cities for other reasons as well, such as a lack of personal security. The frequently reported gang violence, assaults, shootings, bombs and car-torchings have been taking their toll. On August 31, Aftonbladet ran a story about Emma Zetterholm, who chose to leave Malmö with her family after living in the city for 18 years. "I still love Malmö but my family and I cannot live here" she told the newspaper. "The violence crept closer and closer to me, my relatives, friends and colleagues."
Six years ago, Zetterholm moved into an idyllic area with old villas. Soon enough, however, car-torchings, shootings and explosions filled the night. An illegal nightclub operated close by and the noise around it -- explosions and shootings -- went on all night. Neighbors who complained received verbal threats and stones thrown through their windows. One day, a man was murdered in broad daylight, close to a playground full of people. At other times, children were nearly hit by bullets that had gone through windows.
Zetterholm explains that she felt that her family's situation was bizarre but she still kept trying to convince herself that it was not that dangerous. She says it feels "awful" to be part of a trend where "well-educated, white middle class flee problematic areas."
"I have tried to defend Malmö," she said, "But the more time passes and you notice that there is no improvement, you eventually lose your resilience". At least ten families have left the area now, she said, many for other areas in the south of Sweden.
Many Swedes are leaving their cities, but some have decided to leave the country altogether. On September 4, an explosion occurred in front of an apartment building in Malmö. The blast was heard in many parts of the city. A Danish man in the neighborhood, Magne Juul, told Kvällsposten that after this latest bombing, he is now considering moving back to Denmark after living for 15 years in Malmö.
Former Minister of Labour Sven Otto Littorin, who now lives and works in Dubai, recently wrote on his Facebook page:
"I cannot say that I regret the decision to move abroad. We came to a country with one of the lowest reported crime rates in the world... The question is whether one dares and wants to move back [to Sweden]".
Littorin, who also served in the past as Secretary of the Moderate Party, was prompted to write his post after reading about a Swedish boy who was abused, robbed and whose life was threatened by gangs, with Swedish authorities telling him not to report it to the police as this would make things 'worse' for him. "This was one of the vilest texts I've read in a long time" wrote the former minister about the story.
"As a parent, you become angry, desperate...The result is that those who can, and can afford it, move. From Uppsala or Saltsjö Boo. To a quieter part of the country or abroad. Those who do not have the same opportunities [to move] remain where they are. It's devastating..."
Sweden is, however, as documented by Statistics Sweden, among the countries in which the highest percentage of residents experience problems in the areas they live. In 2017, according to Statistics Sweden, "About 13 percent of the population in Sweden experience problems in their own residential areas with crime, violence or vandalism. It is one of the highest proportions in Europe." By comparison, the other Nordic countries were placed among the countries with the lowest percentage of the population who experience such problems in their own residential area. In Norway, about 4% experience problems with violence, crime and vandalism. The corresponding proportions for Denmark and Finland were 8% and 6%, respectively.
It is little wonder, then, that many Swedes choose to leave their homes -- either to look for Swedish cities that function better or other countries entirely.
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.