Later this year Sweden will go to the polls for the general election. With the pre-electoral debate in full swing, the political issues receiving the most attention are integration and migration.
In this context it appears political parties are competing over which might promote a restrictive integration and migration political agenda.
There is a clear blurring of boundaries between the left, in this case the Social Democrats (S), and the populist anti-immigration party Sweden Democrats (SD), and the Conservatives (M) to the right. Whether the Social Democrats and the Conservatives becoming closer to extreme right wing politics is “merely” a strategy to gain votes from racist and anti-immigration Sweden Democrats is unclear.
Despite protests from local members, what is certain is the Social Democratic Party’s appetite for typically hostile measures, including: a continuity of temporary residence permits that hinder family reunification, insisting that foreign aid should be conditional on a country’s willingness to receive fellow nationals who have been deported from Sweden, confining asylum seekers to specific centers without the current possibility for them to arrange own accommodation, and with this a promise to expand new detention centers. Much of this is promoted under the rhetoric of pursuing “safe migration politics”.
For whom this would generate safety is unclear.
One thing is undeniable: creating worse conditions for asylum seekers and refugees will not generate “better” integration. Neither will it generate better health nor social and economic equality in Sweden.
In this context GLIMER is much needed. We need to learn about the practice of policy, of the relation between local and national governance. We need to describe this in relation to different local contexts. And more urgently, we need to ask questions that are based on experiences, needs and creative solutions.
And as researchers we carry a responsibility in sharing and disseminating knowledge from our research. In February this year, the Swedish GLIMER team arranged a day together with another EU-funded research project, NIEM (The National Integration Evaluation Mechanism) and representatives from civil society organisations, at Malmö University.
In focus were examples and experiences that civil society organisations have from different themes related to reception and integration of asylum seekers and refugees, such as basic everyday needs as well as education, work, health, information about the Swedish society and much more.
One thing that we in GLIMER learned from these discussions was the importance of perspective in order to create relevant and important actions. These civil society organizations all had in common that they acted and worked for solutions out of the needs among asylum seekers and newly arrived refugees.
Another thing that became obvious was the tension between the civil society and the state/the city. “We do not want to replace the welfare state” some of the representatives argued. “We want to do something else, we are part of a movement, we do not want to solve the state’s problems, although we are good at it.”.
We have good reason to reflect on this tension between the role of the civil society and the state in relation to current political debate. Political actions that result in increasing vulnerability among asylum seeker and newly arrived refugees will probably intensify the need for support from civil society, and this will also increase the tensions between the civil society and the state.
Civil society is increasingly carrying out specific social services, aimed at asylum seekers and newly arrived, whereas other social services are aimed at citizens and performed by the state and the city, what does this division mean in relation to integration and inclusion? Meanwhile, political actions that result in increasing vulnerability among asylum seeker and newly arrived refugees will certainly intensify the need for the civil society. How will that effect not only the tension between the civil society and the state, but the whole idea of the welfare state and who carries the responsibility for social work?