Swedish Church wants to run refugee reception centres

4:05 min

The Swedish Church wants to run refugee reception centres, as an alternative to the profit-making companies that are currently dominating the sector.

The private landlords running the refugee reception centres have had a lot of bad press lately. Extremely poor housing conditions with mould and bedbugs have been revealed and when Swedish Television reviewed last year's financial reports, they found examples of extremely large profit margins. In some cases more than every other krona spent in tax money ended up as profits for the private company.

And it is this that the Swedish Church now wants to offer an alternative to. On Thursday, Arch Bishop Antje Jackelén is meeting with the director general of the Migration Board to discuss the matter.

"The Swedish Church has a long-standing commitment to work with refugees around the country," said Kristina Hellqvist, who works with refugee and integration programmes in the Swedish Church.

She said the circumstances today are exceptional, with many people applying for asylum and with the housing situation under a lot of pressure.

"We are happy to look at what more we can do, and if there are new formats to do it," she said, calling the profit margins among the private landlords "completely unreasonable".

But this is something Bert Karlsson doesn't agree with. Once famous as one of two frontmen of the populist anti-immigration party New Democracy that reached Parliament in the beginning of the 1990s - before disintegrating in its own infighting - he is now - ironically - one of Sweden's biggest private landlords for refugee reception centres. He is fuming about what he sees as exaggerated talk of profit margins.

"We've never had this 'every other krona in profit', that is pure lies. I get so angry. I tell you it is 6-7 per cent in profit if you are going to do it properly, and if you are paying proper wages and not just having volunteers and people working for free," he told Swedish Radio News.

Asked if he is provoked by the fact that he may now get a new competitor in the market, Bert Karlsson said he has no problems with that.

"They have no chance in this, because they think it is all easy-peasy. I've been running businesses my whole life, and you have to know your stuff. The church hasn't got a clue, they see everything through rose-tinted glasses. This is a tough business I can tell you," he said.

But Kristina Hellqvist from the Swedish Church is not scared off.

"We think it is important that everybody in Sweden who is passionate about this and think refugee reception is important, that we all think about what more we can do, and what we can do better," she said.

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