Rising immigration, failed integration and the violent radicalization of a small minority of young Muslims have fueled the ascent of populist parties across Europe. Sweden is not immune, although it is different from its neighbors. Of all the Nordic countries, Sweden has the highest proportion of immigrants, and yet it has consistently registered the lowest level of support for nationalist, anti-immigration parties. That Swedish exceptionalism, however, is unlikely to last given the high levels of immigration and ongoing problems with integration.
Despite having less than 2 percent of the European Union’s population, Sweden last year took in almost 20 percent of the EU’s asylum seekers. Sweden has long had a generous approach to asylum seekers and immigrants, reflected in the fact that 15 percent of the population was born abroad and over 30 percent below the age of 18 were either born abroad or have at least one parent who was.
But the magnitude of Sweden’s immigrant community has created integration challenges. According to a recent study by the New Welfare Foundation, the number of “deprived” residential areas—defined as having a higher than 40 percent unemployment rate and a higher than 30 percent high school dropout rate—is rising. In 1990, there were three such areas in Sweden; by 2012 there were 186. Sweden’s inflexible labor market and shortcomings in the education system contribute to such high unemployment rates in certain immigrant communities. Episodes of violent protests, such as days of rioting last year in a number of suburbs across the country triggered by a police shooting, have put the issue of failed integration in the spotlight.