Centre-right parties split over integration policies
The Liberal Party are now in the midst of a heated internal debate about immigration and integration. That's a debate going on in all four former government centre-right parties in the Alliance, who have up until now stood up for a more liberal regime, but are now in the midst of discussions within their parties on how to cope with the challenges of this wave of refugees.
In the last election the anti-immigration and nationalist Sweden Democrats saw their share of the vote leap to 13 percent, and at the same time the Swedish Migration Board estimates that around 90 thousand refugees will claim asylum in Sweden this year. Not everyone will be given asylum here, but the numbers are putting pressure on the local municipalities, and the migration board itself, which has to quickly find living quarters for the new arrivals. This in a country with has a major lack of housing in many areas.
So how can Sweden cope with the refugees, and try to integrate them into Swedish society, so they can find somewhere to live and get a job and start paying taxes? All of the centre-right parties are now in the middle of discussions within the parties about what to do. They all want to encourage refugees to get a job, but they have different ways of going about it. The Christian Democrats want to cut the amount of money refugees get per week while waiting for their case to be dealt with, they also want refugees to be able to earn 100 thousand kronor a year tax free, in order to encourage them to get a job, and only give refugees temporary residence permits, for three years, unless they get a job. And the Liberal Party are on a similar track, they too want to use temporary permits more.
But their Alliance partners, the Centre Party, have chosen a different route. Rather than concentrating on what the refugees get, or don't get, and residence permits, their proposals include a series of plans to give local municipalities more cash, to help them deal with the challenges. Johanna Jonsson is their integration spokesperson.
"We need to look at the expenses, and make sure the state covers these expenses", she tells Radio Sweden. "We also need to give them more power to do their work, and more responsibility as well. But most of all we need to give them more support."
The 20-point plan by the Centre Party includes suggestions like a guaranteed first home for newly-arrived immigrants.
"We need more housing, especially in the regions where there is more work", Jonsson says, "and we also see that there is a very uneven distribution right now both when it comes to asylum seekers and those who have gotten their residence permits. We need to make this more even."
That would involve building more temporary housing, the Centre Party says, as well as liberalising the housing rental market, and tightening the demands on those landlords willing to rent their buildings to the migration board as homes for asylum seekers.
As well as housing, the 20-point plan also stresses the importance of getting a job. Making it easier to combine work with Swedish lessons is one aspect, but in a country where people with foreign sounding names are less likely to be called to a job interview according to research, what can be done to encourage employers to spread the net more when looking for new employees?
"We agree that that is a big concern, we've been looking at ways of how to get the civil society involved in this, because we need to open up our networks", Jonsson says, "that's very important when it comes to discrimination, because people need to meet and make sure you get your first step into a job by being in contact with someone who has a job."
The latest suggestions by members of the Liberal Party to set limits on how many refugees should be allowed to come to Sweden is not supported by the Centre Party's Johanna Jonsson, who does not think this country has yet reached a point when it needs to start turning people away.
"You have to look at the conflicts in the world", she says, "you have to look at the situation. One in three people living in Lebanon is a refugee. So if you look at that situation then it is quite weird to me that you are saying 'this is enough, we can't take this any more'. Of course other countries in the European Union need to do more, but they need to do more because we need to more for the refugees, not because we have to do less in Sweden."