How many migrants can Sweden stomach?

How many migrants can Sweden stomach?

By now, the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe is hardly news, but the impact of ongoing waves of people is only starting to sink in. While political leaders of the EU grapple with issues concerning a feasible allocative scheme, digestible to all, migrants keep arriving, often with a destination in mind. Sweden is top among those.

Sweden, following Germany and Hungary, is a rather popular destination for several reasons. The three main reasons are first that it already has a large foreign-born population (16%), which attracts refugees and migrants hoping to find friends and family already settled there.

Secondly, a very high proportion of asylum seekers’ applications are accepted – the figure currently is 77% against a European average of 43%. Finally, on a political, official level, Sweden welcomes refugees and cultivates a humanist image. This is known among smugglers and asylum seekers alike; in the information age, news travel fast.

Asylum applicants, annual aggregated data 2014

Source: Eurostat

Being a relatively sparsely populated country, the influx makes Sweden the top migrant recipient in per capita terms. Despite rising domestic tension, anti-immigrant sentiment has not yet become part of the political landscape. Whereas populist, nationalistic parties have found their way to influence and attention in numerous European countries, Sweden operates with a deliberate strategy of suppression.

Flares of anger are on display in recent arson attacks against refugee shelters, where perpetrators have caused fires at over 20 different shelters, often targeting those for unaccompanied children. Sweden Democrats, the party non-grata with an explicit anti-immigrant agenda, are polling more than a quarter of the vote. It is questionable if their view can be silenced much longer.

The current prognosis for arrivals this year is 190,000 persons – of which around 40,000 are unaccompanied children. In Denmark, applications for asylum from unaccompanied children have diminished recently, probably because they are subject to testing by means of x-raying teeth and bones to verify their age.

Between October 2013 and October 2014, 215 out of 300 tested “children” turned out to be adults. In Sweden, on the contrary, virtually all unaccompanied children are granted asylum and testing is out of the question due to its invasive nature. As a consequence, Sweden receives the highest number of unaccompanied minors among European countries.

In 2014, over 7,000 minors applied for asylum in Sweden. In Germany, 4,400 unaccompanied children applied, despite Germany receiving more asylum applications overall.

Asylum applicants considered to be unaccompanied minors – annual data

Source: Eurostat data for 2014

At present, refugees and migrants arriving to Sweden have reached a level that has spurred border controls. As of last week, the checkpoints are not tasked with turning back refugees, rather they are offered a choice: apply for asylum or turn back. The lack of control and order with refugees entering Sweden has been a major worry, and the fact that even Sweden is reaching max capacity is hardly surprising, given the numbers.

Leading up to imposition of border controls, 9,200 people were arriving weekly. There is a seasonal effect in this, but extrapolating from present conditions it would mean almost 480,000 in a year (assuming 52 weeks to a year) roughly double that of the estimated intake for 2015. If 77% are granted asylum, the annual influx into a country of 10m is almost 370,000.

In addition, it bears mentioning that for each accepted asylum seeker, another is added on average due to family reunification. It is expected that harsher weather as winter approaches will curb migration. However, so far there is little to suggest that the pressure will diminish; reports from Europe’s border show the same impossibly long trails of people, groups cramming into spaces much too small and crowding bottlenecks and key railway stations and roads.

The medium- to long term consequences of this is likely to be a much less equal Sweden with a larger, poor underclass. The fact is that few migrants and refugees arriving and settling have a higher education. A lot of them are Syrian, some are from Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Albania. Few of those have qualifications that are in demand in Sweden, whose economy requires well-educated workers and leave many with low or no skills jobless – even if they are blue-eyed, blonde Swedes.

Among non-western immigrants, only 52% have a job, and immigrants account for nearly 60% of total, Swedish welfare benefits. Entering the labour market is difficult for immigrants, and long-term unemployment is 10 percentage points higher for foreign-born individuals in Sweden.

Employment rates of foreign-born population aged 15-64 not in education

Source: OECD Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015: Settling In

A society famous for its egalitarian welfare system and relatively low Gini-coefficient, this unprecedented influx of migrants and refugees is likely to cause social shifts. Integration has not been particularly successful so far, heightening the risk of creating an underclass for whom prospects are discouraging. The task ahead is Sisyphean, and decision makers largely clueless.

The asylum process calls for revision, perhaps following the Norwegian example, where private business in the form of Hero Norge has turned immigration into a business model. First-best would of course be a united, European response to the crisis, but realistically, the Union’s response is likely to be too little, too late.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Mikala Sorenson

Mikala Sorensen is an Economist with regional expertise in Europe. She holds a first class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of York and a Masters in Economics from the University of Copenhagen. Having interned at the Danish OECD-delegation in Paris and currently working at the Danish Ministry of Finance, she specialises in politics and macroeconomics. Analysis for GRI is an expression of her own views.