The Society for International Affairs (SOFIA) welcomed the Swedish ambassador to Ireland, Ulrika Sundberg, to Trinity on Wednesday night. She noted that the memory of the terror attacks in Paris has had a profound effect on attitudes toward asylum seekers in the EU, a theme which weighed heavily throughout the discussion as Sundberg reflected that for the first time the government does not know how many people are living in Sweden, noting that “we don’t know who they are”. She spoke about “traditional Swedish values” and how she hopes that education will resolve any differences between these values and those of the incoming asylum seekers.
Introducing the refugee crisis as “one of the most difficult issues facing the EU”, Sundberg spoke of the Swedish tradition of aiding those facing persecution and discrimination. In their history they have been faced repeatedly with an influx of refugees, beginning with Bosnian-Herzegovinians fleeing the Balkan Wars from 1992 and averaging at 1000 applicants per month by 2010. Sweden is the largest per capita recipient of refugees in the EU, with Sundberg emphasising the Swedish attitude that “we need to provide protection to those that really need it”.
Since then, conflicts across Syria and the Middle East has seen this figure rise to 4000 per month by 2015. These numbers continue to grow.
Last year the Social Democratic party were forced to join the Green Party in coalition and implemented a humanitarian policy concerning migration, opposed by the Swedish Democrats who sought to cap the number of migrants entering. Opposition has led to the Swedes radically altering their policy (November 24th), with the current rate of immigration Sweden lacks sufficient homes, schools and doctors to meet the needs of those seeking asylum. With public services under strain the crisis was seen to threaten public order and incidents of arson and racial tension emerged across the country.
The Ambassador discussed a press release delivered by the Swedish Migration Agency in which the agency stated it is no longer able to offer accommodation to all asylum seekers. Sweden has instated obligatory ID checks in every form of public transport crossing the border. New applicants will not be offered permanent status but registered as temporary refugees.
This week the EU Commission will meet to negotiate on the question of migration. Among the approaches proposed by Sweden is the necessity of forming an agreement with Turkey to protect EU borders, with many refugees entering the EU across Turkey. Sweden is pushing for an EU-wide asylum system and the redistribution of the Swedish refugees.
Illustration via SOFIA