At a ’dramatic’ press conference last week, the Swedish government made a 180 degree turn in its refugee policies. From saying “refugees welcome” in September, the aim now is to get as close to zero refugees as possible.
The turn has been prepared with weeks of propaganda that Sweden is close to “collapse” because of the refugees, spiced with a terror warning following the mass murder in France. A wanted terrorist was arrested but was quickly released and declared innocent. The alarmist tone, however, was used to scare people and pave the way for extraordinary measures.
There is nothing new in the refugee proposals. They were put forward by the Conservatives a few weeks ago, have always been part of the racist Sweden Democrat’s programme and are already implemented in different variants by governments in other EU countries.
The government’s new line – presented by prime minister Stefan Löfven (Social Democrat) and deputy PM, Åsa Romson (Greens) – is a staggering blow, particularly to refugees from Syria. So far this year 36,400 refugees have received permanent residence in Sweden. From now on, they will at best get permits for between one and three years. In practice, if they manage to enter Sweden, refugees will be in a permanent process to prolong their permits and under constant threat of deportation. That includes children. With temporary permits, the opportunity for jobs, housing, and learning Swedish is undermined.
Another target is LGBTQ refugees who are deemed to be in "distressing circumstances"; this is also being abolished as grounds for permits. These are some of the categories affected by the government wanting to close the door as much as possible on those who are fleeing from war-torn countries.
From now on there will be ID and passport inspections on buses and trains - something that was abolished with the Schengen system of “free travel” and supposed to be a cornerstone of the European Union. A few weeks ago this was introduced on the ferries from Germany to Sweden with the effect that refugees are forced to stay in Denmark or Germany. In turn, these countries will most likely send the refugees further south. More than half of the refugees who arrived in Sweden this year had no passports or identity documents.New, higher or, in many cases, impossible thresholds for relatives to be able to join family members in Sweden have also been introduced.
"Our assessment is that the numbers will be greatly reduced," said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. All his talk of two months ago such as: "In my Europe, we do not build walls!" and that it was wrong to speak of "refugee volumes" or make comparisons with World War Two have been thrown in the rubbish bin. One of the arguments is that "we cannot offer a good reception". But how is it better not even to get into the country? Will Denmark, Greece or Croatia offer a better reception?
Those fleeing war and terror do it knowing that their lives are at stake. 3,500 have died on their way to Europe so far this year, most of them drowning in the Mediterranean. Closed borders already mean smugglers organising for refugees to travel in containers and baggage compartments. These extremely risky ways of travelling will now be on the increase.
The Swedish government is also introducing another one of the right’s demands – the medical age assessment of children. In practice, they are examining whether children are children. The assessment methods have been criticised by paediatricians. The National Health Board has estimated that the margin of error is four years either way.
Those immigrants who manage to get a job within three years can obtain permanent residence status. This then opens them up to wage ‘dumping’ and exploitation. Companies that already exploit undocumented workers can offer job contracts with official wage levels but pay much less.
Right-wing parties and EU governments want to go further
Löfven and Romson said at last week’s press conference that the refugee policy must be "legitimate", implying there is strong public opinion demanding such measures. This is false. a) Public opinion swings depend a lot on politicians’ statements about the "danger of collapse" and about councils not receiving enough extra resources. b) There are still a lot of people around the country who give active support to the refugees. c) When there has been majority public opinion, for example, against privatisation, politicians have ignored it.
Prime Minister Löfven was praised by both the right-wing opposition leader, Anna Kinberg Batra, and the leader of the racist Sweden Democrats, Jimmie Åkesson. Both said the government is now implementing what they have demanded, and both immediately demanded much more. In practice, they both want to close the country’s borders completely and they will keep up their pressure.
One argument from the government was that other EU countries will now do more. What has followed has been completely the opposite. “Refugee-friendly” Sweden closing its borders is only pushing every other country further in the same direction. Denmark immediately announced new measures and so did Norway, which is not in the EU. It is a race to see who can stop the most refugees and be the worst country: a race to the bottom.
The crisis of the European Union will deepen further. That the EU has been courting Erdogan in Turkey to get his regime to stop refugees coming further and across Europe, says everything.
Fight for welfare and refugee rights
Stopping refugees coming in will not make more money available for social welfare - something ministers have been implying. It is the same politicians who are carrying out extreme cuts in health care around the country that are now attacking the refugees. The government has also already given notice that new cuts are on the way.
In particular, the Green Party has done its best to betray everything the party claimed to stand for. Obviously, their refugee policy was not meant to apply during a refugee crisis!
What is needed now is immediate protests against the government’s decision as well as a strategy to force change in the overall policy. The first protest demonstration which was held on Saturday night in Stockholm, brought 4,000 people onto the streets..
All those who have participated in the ‘Refugees welcome’ demonstrations and who have opposed racism and right-wing austerity policies, need to gather together in a movement for struggle. Shock Doctrine methods may temporarily affect public opinion, but it will turn direction again. When the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan after 9/11, most people gave their support and the protests were relatively limited. But a year and a half later, the anti-war movement was huge.
Workers and ordinary people must all fight together and not accept a reduction in the situation of one group of people with the vain hope that others may then survive. Trade unions, networks and left-wing organisations must demand massive resources both for welfare and environmentally friendly new jobs in housing, infrastructure, health, education, care, etc., including for refugees. This can only be implemented as a result of mass struggle.
Capitalism must be challenged
The EU is a club for big business and the rich - a symbol of privatisation, welfare cuts and walls being built against refugees. Neo-liberal policies in Sweden and elsewhere have meant a massive redistribution from workers and the public sector to big business and the rich.
A government not prepared to challenge capital is forced to maintain a hard right-wing policy, especially in times of crisis. What in Sweden for a period seemed to be a “generous” policy is now ultimately undermined and reversed. This process of counter-reforms is what is happening now in relation to refugees and in recent times was implemented against the unemployed, pensioners, the health service and the public sector in general.
And there is more wealth in Sweden than ever before! Just one example: 156 billionaires own 1,800 billion SEK (180 billion euro). A 10 percent tax on billionaires would provide 180 billion SEK. That is three times more than the Migration Board’s request to cover the cost of the increased number of refugees. But that’s just one example. Abolishing private profit-making in refugee accommodation, which is extremely lucrative, is another important step that should be made.
If capital threatens to leave the country, it is time to introduce border controls on capital!
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) campaigns for a new workers’ party. The problem with today’s Vänsterpartiet (Left Party), although they have strongly criticised the government’s turnaround, is that they continue to be a support party for Social Democracy in parliament and in many local and regional councils.
A workers’ party would conduct battles against all cuts and imperialist wars and put forward a socialist alternative. It will undoubtedly emerge from trade union struggles, anti-racist protest and other movements and battles .