Friday, July 1, 2016

Sweden's Suicide

James Traub has an essay at Foreign Policy that's must reading for everyone in Europe and North America concerned about the future of their respective countries. Traub's column paints a gloomy picture of that future in one of the most prosperous, most generous nations in Europe - Sweden. The article is titled The Death of the Most Generous Nation on Earth and the proximate cause of Sweden's demise is their open door policy toward refugees. In short, Traub seems to conclude that Sweden's liberal idealism is both culturally and economically suicidal.

Readers might question this somber conclusion so perhaps it's worth posting some excerpts:
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.

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 160,000 asylum-seekers who came to Sweden last year is double the number it has ever accepted before. I met many critics who were prepared to raise impolite questions about whether Sweden could afford to lavish generous benefits on so large a population, whether it could integrate so many new arrivals with low levels of skills, whether a progressive and extremely secular country could socialize a generation of conservative Muslim newcomers.

Diana Janse, a former diplomat and now the senior foreign policy advisor to the Moderate Party (which Swedes view as “conservative”), pointed out to me that some recent generations of Swedish refugees, including Somalis, had been notably unsuccessful joining the job market. How, she wondered, will the 10,000-20,000 young Afghan men who had entered Sweden as “unaccompanied minors” fare? How would they behave in the virtual absence of young Afghan women? But she could barely raise these questions in political debate. “We have this expression in Swedish, asiktskorridor,” she said. “It means ‘opinion corridor’ — the views you can’t move outside of.” Merely to ask whether Sweden could integrate Afghans today as it had Bosnians two decades before was to risk accusations of racism.

Sweden has promised to take care of every refugee while their application for asylum is pending; the backlog has grown to a point that that process can take over a year. During that period, according to the Migration Agency’s website, “the applicant is entitled to accommodation if they cannot arrange it themselves, financial support if they have no money, and access to emergency medical and dental care and to health care that cannot be postponed.” Their children have the same access to education and health care that Swedish children enjoy.

Afghanistan poses a particularly thorny problem. Afghans have lately swelled the great river of refuge-seekers. The country is so profoundly insecure that many of its 32 million citizens might have a colorable claim to asylum. ...By the end of 2015, far more Afghans than Iraqis were applying for asylum in Sweden; many were unaccompanied minors, placing them in a specially protected category. Sweden has extraordinary laws protecting minors: Refugees who arrive without parents are taken into the country’s social services bureaucracy, operated by each municipality though financed by the federal government.

Back at the Red Cross station, opinion was surprisingly anti-refugee, including among volunteers. The translator said that he did not believe many of the new arrivals would ever be able to integrate into Sweden’s liberal, individualistic society. A border policeman told me, “Last summer, my grandmother almost starved to death in the hospital, but the migrants get free food and medical care. I think a government’s job is to take care of its own people first, and then, if there’s anything left over, you help other people.” I had heard the same view a few months earlier in Hungary, the country in Europe most outspokenly hostile to refugees — the anti-Sweden. Europe has not experienced economic growth in almost a decade. One could hardly think of a worse moment to ask citizens to make sacrifices on behalf of outsiders.

I had, it turned out, arrived in Sweden at the very moment when the supply of goodwill was petering out. A poll in early November found that 41 percent of Swedes thought the country was taking too many refugees, up from 29 percent in September.

a sharp increase in welfare payments, 60 percent of which go to immigrants. ...Despite widespread reports that Syrian refugees are drawn largely from the educated middle class, statistics compiled by the Swedish Migration Agency show that half the new arrivals do not have a high-school degree, and one-third have not progressed beyond ninth grade. The figures are yet higher for the Afghan unaccompanied minors.

I often asked what this new generation of newcomers was going to do for work. Sweden has virtually no space for unskilled workers;

Even before Sweden slammed on the brakes, it seemed that the country had posed for itself a test that it could not pass, and could not acknowledge that it could not pass. The financial costs, even for one of Europe’s richest countries, were daunting. Sweden expects to spend about 7 percent of its $100 billion budget next year on refugees. The real number is somewhat higher, since the costs of educating and training those who have already received asylum are not included in that figure. It is, in any case, double the 2015 budget. Where will the additional funds come from? It’s not clear yet, but since the cost of caring for refugees is considered a form of development assistance, Sweden has already cut 30 percent of its very generous foreign aid budget, which largely goes to fortify the very countries from which people are now fleeing, to help make up the difference.

It is very hard to find a middle ground between “we must” and “we can’t.” One of the few people I spoke to who was seeking one was Diana Janse of the Moderates. I asked her if she feared that Sweden was in the process of committing suicide. “It’s an open question,” Janse replied. She worried that the costs of Sweden’s generosity were only beginning to come due, and no one cared to tally them. She had just learned that since the right to 450 days of parental leave per child enshrined in Swedish laws also applies to women who arrive in the country with children under seven, refugees could qualify for several years’ worth of paid leave — even without working, since unemployed women also receive maternal benefits. She was convinced that Sweden needed to end the practice of giving Swedish social payments to refugees, not only because it was unaffordable, but because Sweden had no interest in out-bidding its neighbors to woo refugees.
Anyone who wonders why so many Brits voted to leave the EU and so many Americans are alarmed at Mr. Obama's open-door immigration policy might find reading Traub's article helpfully instructive.