Finding refuge in Sweden’s bitter north

Imagine fleeing your home having witnessed the country you love being torn apart by a brutal civil war. Then imagine moving thousands of kilometres away to a land almost 20 degrees colder than home on average, which never sees the sun during winter. Here in lies Sweden’s innovate solution to addressing the growing refugee crisis.

Europe is currently engulfed in the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, with Sweden using the crisis to become Europe’s self-declared “humanitarian superpower”. The Nordic nation is currently processing Europe’s second highest amount of asylum applications per head, an estimated 1,667 applications per 100,000 people, compared to only 60 in the UK. However, Sweden has paid a price for its kindness: the influx of refugees has given rise to a radical nationalism. As a result, the Swedish Migration Agency has been forced into to new solutions for housing migrants away from its biggest cities.

 

Refugees from Syria to Sweden

Refugees arriving in Sweden

Owing to its extreme northerly position, Riksgränsen ski resort opens in mid-February. This means the resort lies empty and bereft of life during the cold, dark winter months. As Sweden’s Social Democrat-led government has continued to encourage more Swedish municipalities to take in migrants, the emptiness of Riksgränsen has served as a solution for the Swedish Migration Agency, who have been desperately struggling to find temporary accommodation for refugees. This has resulted in Riksgränsen welcoming nearly 600 refugees from nations such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for its off-season, offering them a chance to work, learn new skills and acclimate themselves to Swedish culture.

 

Photo by ilovetoskiandboard.com

Photo by ilovetoskiandboard.com

Now the season has started in earnest. Many refugees, despite being desperate to stay in Riksgränsen, have left owing to limited employment opportunities during the season. The fact so many migrants felt welcomed and wanted to remain in Sweden’s far north proves the success of the scheme. The scheme has allowed refugees to use their long asylum process productively, to prepare for a life in a country which couldn’t be more different than their former home. Surely, this represents a far better way to integrate migrants than leaving then them in the big cities of Gothenburg, Stockholm or Malmö where most refugees reside after entering Sweden. In these cities they live with fellow migrants and often only socialise with them. Therefore, sometimes they become ostracised from native society, a contributing factor to the rise of anti-immigration feelings in Sweden.

The scheme may help to combat the worrying rise in negativity toward migrants. This movement is characterised by the rise in popularity of the Sweden Democrats, a nationalist party with neo-Nazi roots and far-right immigration policies. By allowing first-hand experience with refugees the scheme can help both migrants and disillusioned Swedes to better understand each other, a thought echoed by Sven Kuldepp, the CEO of Lapland Resorts who when speaking of the scheme said, “[Immigration] also helped us see the refugees as normal human beings, to see beyond the tragedy… It’s been a fantastic experience.”

Immigration is an issue laden with negative connotations in a lot of other European countries. Perhaps through actively engaging with refugees as seen in Riksgränsen, we can reduce the dehumanisation of migrants and provide them with a better opportunity to settle in their new homes. Natives would also better understand the strife these people have been through and as Kuldepp says, see them not as a statistic but as the people they really are.

Engagement would allow us to work towards a more accepting, multicultural society, helping to remove the many stigmas associated with immigration.

Words by Harry Rice

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