The cost Sweden has paid for its unshared idealism in welcoming refugees

James Traub writes: The Swedish Migration Agency in Malmo, the southern port city on the border with Denmark, occupies a square brick building at the far edge of town. On the day that I was there, Nov. 19, 2015, hundreds of refugees, who had been bused in from the train station, queued up outside in the chill to be registered, or sat inside waiting to be assigned a place for the night. Two rows of white tents had been set up in the parking lot to house those for whom no other shelter could be found. Hundreds of refugees had been put in hotels a short walk down the highway, and still more in an auditorium near the station.

When the refugee crisis began last summer, about 1,500 people were coming to Sweden every week seeking asylum. By August, the number had doubled. In September, it doubled again. In October, it hit 10,000 a week, and stayed there even as the weather grew colder. A nation of 9.5 million, Sweden expected to take as many as 190,000 refugees, or 2 percent of the population — double the per capita figure projected by Germany, which has taken the lead in absorbing the vast tide of people fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere.

That afternoon, in the cafeteria in the back of the Migration Agency building, I met with Karima Abou-Gabal, an agency official responsible for the orderly flow of people into and out of Malmo. I asked where the new refugees would go. “As of now,” she said wearily, “we have no accommodation. We have nothing.” The private placement agencies with whom the migration agency contracts all over the country could not offer so much as a bed. In Malmo itself, the tents were full. So, too, the auditorium and hotels. Sweden had, at that very moment, reached the limits of its absorptive capacity. That evening, Mikael Ribbenvik, a senior migration official, said to me, “Today we had to regretfully inform 40 people that we could [not] find space for them in Sweden.” They could stay, but only if they found space on their own.

Nothing about this grim denouement was unforeseeable — or, for that matter, unforeseen. Vast numbers of asylum-seekers had been pouring into Sweden both because officials put no obstacles in their way and because the Swedes were far more generous to newcomers than were other European countries. A few weeks earlier, Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, had declared that if the rest of Europe continued to turn its back on the migrants, “in the long run our system will collapse.” The collapse came faster than she had imagined.

The vast migration of desperate souls from Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere has posed a moral test the likes of which Europe has not faced since the Nazis forced millions from their homes in search of refuge. Europe has failed that test. Germany, acutely aware that it was the author of that last great refugee crisis, has taken in the overwhelming fraction of the 1 million asylum-seekers who have reached Europe over the past 18 months. Yet the New Year’s Eve 2016 orgy of rape and theft in Cologne, in which migrants have been heavily implicated, may force Chancellor Angela Merkel to reconsider the open door. Her policy of generosity is now being openly attacked by her own ministers.

Most of Europe, and much of the world, has, as Wallstrom feared, turned its back. The ethnically homogeneous nations of Eastern Europe have refused to take any refugees at all; Hungary, their standard-bearer on this issue, has built fences along its borders to keep refugees from even passing through. Balkan countries, by contrast, helped migrants pass through their territories to the West — until mid-November, when they collectively began blocking asylum-seekers who did not hail from Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan. England has agreed to take only those refugees arriving directly on its shores from the Middle East. Denmark has taken out ads in Arabic-language newspapers warning refugees that they will not be welcome, and has passed legislation authorizing officials to seize migrants’ assets to pay for their care. In the United States, where politicians eager to exploit fear of terrorism have found a receptive audience, Congress has sought to block President Barack Obama’s offer to accept a meager 10,000 Syrians.

And then there is Sweden, a country that prides itself on generosity to strangers. During World War II, Sweden took in the Jews of Denmark, saving much of the population. In recent years the Swedes have taken in Iranians fleeing from the Shah, Chileans fleeing from Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and Eritreans fleeing forced conscription. Accepting refugees is part of what it means to be Swedish. Yet what Margot Wallstrom meant, and what turned out to be true, was that Germany, Sweden, Austria, and a few others could not absorb the massive flow on their own. The refugee crisis could, with immense effort and courage, have been a collective triumph for Europe. Instead, it has become a collective failure. This is the story of the exorbitant, and ultimately intolerable, cost that Sweden has paid for its unshared idealism. [Continue reading…]

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Russian aggression drives Swedish defense spending

Defense News reports: Sweden’s discomfort over Russia’s long-term political and military ambitions in the Baltic Sea and High North has risen further after a senior military chief stated the Nordic state could find itself under attack “within a few years.”

The warning, made by Swedish Armed Forces’ Maj. Gen. Anders Brännström, came the same week that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed, in the organization’s Annual Report, that Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers accompanied by Sukhoi Su-27 jets conducted a simulated “training” nuclear strike targeting key Swedish defense installations in March 2013.

Brännström stated, in an internal military document forwarded to officers and soldiers attending the armed forces’ Markstrids’ (Land Combat) conference in the sub-Arctic town of Boden, that the changed post-Cold War security landscape will require Sweden to downgrade international missions and prioritize reinforcing national defense readiness and capabilities. [Continue reading…]

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Russia carried out practice nuclear strike against Sweden

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The Local reports: When Russian planes carried out a simulated attack against Sweden in 2013, it included nuclear warfare, a Nato report has revealed.

The training mission by the Russian military took place just beyond the eastern edge of the Stockholm archipelago three years ago. It grabbed global headlines because Sweden’s military was slow to react due to staff being on vacation and had to rely on help from Nato.

Several Swedish media outlets had previously speculated that the exercises also included a simulated nuclear attack, but this was never confirmed.

Now, Nato’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has revealed that this was indeed the case – a revelation that appears in the defence alliance’s annual report.

The text, which was released last week but only widely reported in Sweden on Wednesday, also confirmed that four Russian Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers had participated in the training exercise as well as two Sukhoi Su-27 jets. [Continue reading…]

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Masked men in Stockholm threaten to ‘punish’ refugee children

The Guardian reports: A gang of masked men have been detained in Stockholm after distributing leaflets threatening to punish “north African street children roaming” the Swedish capital.

Police said one man had been charged with assaulting a police officer and the others had been charged with wearing a mask in public, which is illegal in Sweden, and for causing a public disturbance.

A police spokesman told local media the men detained were believed to have gathered “with the purpose of attacking refugee children”.

According to the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, up to 100 masked men marched into central Stockholm on Friday to hand out leaflets carrying the message “It’s enough now” and threatening to give the “north African street children who are roaming around” the “punishment they deserve”.

This week an employee at a refugee centre for unaccompanied youths in Mölndal, near Gothenburg, was fatally stabbed, allegedly by a young man living at the centre.

The killing of Alexandra Mezher, 22, has led to questions about overcrowded conditions in some refugee centres, with too few adults and employees to take care of children, many of whom are traumatised by war. [Continue reading…]

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Sweden prepares to turn thousands of asylum seekers into outcasts

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The Local reports: Sweden plans to charter aircraft to send back as many as 80,000 rejected asylum seekers in what the country’s interior minister is calling “a very big challenge”.

Interior minister Anders Ygeman told Sweden’s Dagens Industri newspaper that he believed that at least 60,000, and possibly as many as 80,000 of the 163,000 who sought asylum in Sweden last year would have their applications rejected, meaning they will be returned either to their home countries or to the European country responsible under EU rules.

“The first step will be to go with voluntary return, and to create the best conditions for that,” Ygeman said. “But if that doesn’t work, we will need to have returns backed up by force.”

“I think we will have to see more chartered planes, particularly in the EU-region.”

He said that the Swedish government hoped to strike deals with other EU countries — in particular Germany — over coordinating flights to return asylum seekers.

It is also seeking return agreements with countries such as Afghanistan and Morocco.

But Victor Harju, Ygeman’s press secretary, on Thursday told The Local that the headlines were “a bit exaggerated”.

“Due to the fact that we received so many people in Sweden last year, we have to face the reality that more people will also not fulfil the needs within the asylum programme and will not get a permit to stay,” he said.

However, immigration lawyer Terfa Nisébini criticised Ygeman’s plan, saying that by giving an estimate that roughly half of applications would be rejected, telling Expressen newspaper that it risked influencing the way the Swedish Migration Agency assesses cases.

Swedish opposition parties also questioned whether the government would be able to successfully carry out Ygeman’s plan. [Continue reading…]

If Ygeman’s press secretary thinks the headlines are a bit exaggerated (BBC News is similar to most others: “EU migrant crisis: Sweden may reject 80,000 asylum claims”) there is nevertheless no reason to doubt that the minister’s statement was designed to generate exactly this kind of reporting. In other words, Sweden wants prospective asylum seekers to assume they will be unwelcome and thus set their sights elsewhere.

As individual European countries each engage in their own poorly conceived forms of crisis management, what is increasingly evident is that this crisis is itself the product of a policy vacuum.

As George Soros said recently:

we don’t have a European asylum policy. The European authorities need to accept responsibility for this. It has transformed this past year’s growing influx of refugees from a manageable problem into an acute political crisis. Each member state has selfishly focused on its own interests, often acting against the interests of others. This has precipitated panic among asylum seekers, the general public, and the authorities responsible for law and order. Asylum seekers have been the main victims.

Al Jazeera reports:

A “race to the bottom” on asylum policy among European Union countries is exposing more than 360,000 child migrants to greater risk of harm as the bloc struggles to cope with a surge of refugees, rights watchdogs said on Monday.

European children’s agencies issued the warning in a report released in Amsterdam, where the EU’s interior ministers were meeting to discuss how to deal with the influx of people fleeing war in Africa and the Middle East.

One of the main concerns is that EU countries, from Sweden to Britain, have implemented measures limiting family reunification rights — which risks separating children from their parents after they survive perilous journeys.

“It seems as if European countries are in a contest to win the title of ‘least willing to accept asylum seekers,'” said the report from the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children, which represents 41 independent children’s rights institutions in 34 European countries.

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Army chief: ‘Sweden could be at war within a few years’

The Local reports: Sweden could be at war in just a few years, a top military officer has claimed in an internal document sent to soldiers and Swedish Armed Forces staff and seen by Swedish media.

Sweden’s Major General Anders Brännström made the comments in a brochure for representatives attending an annual Armed Forces conference in Boden next week.

“The global situation we are experiencing and which is also made clear by the strategic decision leads to the conclusion that we could be at war within a few years. For us in the army we have to, with all force we can muster, implement the political decisions,” he wrote, reported the Expressen tabloid.

Since the end of the Cold War the Swedish Armed Forces have focused mainly on providing assistance to international missions abroad, but according to Brännström the strategy has now changed to “capability of armed battle against a qualified opponent”. [Continue reading…]

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Sweden tears up arms agreement with Saudi Arabia over blocked speech

The Guardian reports: Sweden has torn up a decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis blocked the Swedish foreign minister from speaking about human rights to a summit of Arab leaders.

Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the deal was off, removing a cause of division within the country’s left-leaning coalition but deepening a rift with business leaders who implored the government to prolong the agreement.

On Monday, foreign minister Margot Wallström complained at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo that Saudi Arabia had objected to her planned speech on democracy and women’s rights. She had also condemned the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi to a “medieval” punishment of 1,000 lashes.

But on Tuesday, Arab foreign ministers expressed “condemnation and astonishment” at Wallström’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia [law],” according to a statement issued at the end of their Arab League meeting and published by Gulf News.

“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement said.

Sweden first signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Saudi Arabia in 2005, setting out details of cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and weapons manufacture, and paving the way for the sale of Saab’s Erieye radar system to the Saudis in 2010. The agreement had to be ratified by each side every five years, and its renewal date was due in May. [Continue reading…]

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Sweden: More than ever, the land of internet freedom

Nouvel Observateur/Worldcrunch: “This is happening right now in Homs, Syria…” Hans Eriksson shows a shaky video of column of smoke just after a bombing from Bashar al-Assad’s troops.

Bambuser is the name of the service launched by this 44-year-old Swede, which allows any smartphone user to broadcast live what’s happening in front of him – without any censorship. The service is a precious resource for Arab Spring protesters.

“In these countries where information is – or was – under heavy surveillance, it is crucial to be able to show the details of the repression. The world needs to know,” says Eriksson. His service is used by CNN, the BBC and Al-Jazeera.

From 5,000 to 10,000 raw, unedited videos are uploaded every day by this 12-person start-up. Bambuser is the latest symbol of Sweden’s fight for freedom of speech on the Internet.

Three years ago, the country decided to take a stand for the promotion of freedom on the Internet. Minister for Foreign Affairs Carl Bildt launched a dialogue with companies on Internet freedom. He was soon followed by Hillary Clinton, who made an acclaimed speech on Internet freedom in 2010.

“Freedom of expression has always been a cornerstone of the Swedish government, we just extended it to the Internet,” says Ministry of Foreign Affairs Special Adviser Johan Hallenborg. “The freedom to say what we want on the Internet or anywhere else is a human right.” [Continue reading…]

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Julian Assange loses extradition battle

The Guardian reports:

The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be extradited to Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual assault. Assange will appeal, his legal team has confirmed. If they lose he will be sent to Sweden in 10 days.

Speaking outside Belmarsh magistrates court in south-east London after the judgment, Assange attacked the European arrest warrant system.

He dismissed the decision to extradite him as a “rubber-stamping process”. He said: “It comes as no surprise but is nevertheless wrong. It comes as the result of a European arrest warrant system amok.”

There had been no consideration of the allegations against him, Assange said. His extradition would thrust him into a legal system he did not understand using a language he did not speak.

Assange said the US government by its own admission had been waiting to see the British court verdict before determining what action it could take against him.

Glenn Greenwald on the Assange extradition ruling, the jailing of Bradley Manning, and the campaign to target WikiLeaks supporters

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