Migration is old news. It has helped shape countries and the world. But the current situation is unprecedented: more than 65 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes. Migration is also an integral part of the history of Sweden; in today’s population, one in six was born in another country.
This exhibition aims to add new perspectives to the story of Sweden and migration, and to give insights into the current situation in the country. Beyond headlines of chaos and collapse, beyond politics and public authorities, there are people who try to build a life in a new country.
No single migration event has left a bigger mark than the huge emigration of 1.5 million Swedes to the Americas and Australia from 1850 up until the 1930s. This wave of emigrants comprised about 20 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women born during the second half of the 19th century. They left the country to escape poverty and religious persecution, and to seek a better life for themselves and their families.
Over the last few years, Sweden has received a record number of people who have been forced to flee their own countries, hoping for a brighter future elsewhere. In the wake of the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Sweden has in fact welcomed more refugees than any other European country in relation to its population. But it has taken its toll on parts of society.
Sweden and the US are two of the 196 countries that have ratified the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention, which means that they have a legal obligation to protect refugees. Dealing with the more than 160,000 asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 has posed a challenge to the Swedish state, no matter how well equipped and experienced to handle immigration. Housing and schooling have been areas of particular concern. The government has taken some measures to limit the influx of people to the country: border controls were tightened at the end of 2015, and legislative changes in June 2016 has made it harder for asylum seekers to get a residence permit and reunite with family.
Learn about some of the Swedish NGOs that act for integration, and meet some new Swedes who share their stories of migration with photographer Alexander Mahmoud.
Fleeing and Arriving
Since the 1930s Sweden has been characterized by more immigration than emigration, including offering refuge to people fleeing war and political unrest. The more than 160,000 asylum seekers who came to Sweden in 2015 — including 35,000 unaccompanied children — posed a new challenge. International media coverage has painted a picture of crisis and chaos, and domestic discussions have been intense.
Sustaining the Swedish welfare state takes a lot of manpower. According to the Swedish Public Employment Agency, Sweden needs a yearly addition of 64,000 immigrants of working age to compensate for the declining number of people born in the country. How paradoxical, then, that it takes seven to ten years from their arrival to Sweden until half of the refugees are established on the job market. Bridging the gap between immigrants and the Swedish labor market is a pressing issue.
Language is power. Becoming part of a new society is a challenge, and being able to communicate is key. Even if most Swedes speak English, learning Swedish helps lower barriers for newcomers to Sweden. Apart from taking courses, many immigrants also want to socialize with Swedes — finding friends and learning the language at the same time.
When people from different backgrounds meet and do things together, fear and prejudice can fade. Integration is a two-way process, during which the unknown becomes known and we learn what we share and what sets us apart. Wanting to be a part of society is what unites us, and integration is about letting more people become part of the same society.
Historically, Swedes have been more positive to immigration than many other Europeans. But social media is plagued with antisocial behavior, which is affecting attitudes. Fear mongering and misleading information are spinning a web of confusion, fueling racism and muddying the waters of democracy. How to safeguard the truth? How to protect society from becoming inhumane?
Curated by: The Swedish Institute.
Saturdays & Sundays 12 pm – 5 pm
FREE admission and guide on site.
The exhibition will be on display in House of Sweden until December 10, 2017.
The Swedish Institute would like to express its gratitude to the Swedish National Museum of Science and Technology, UNHCR and photographer Alexander Mahmoud as well as all the other actors from the Swedish civil society portrayed in this exhibition.