Migration History in Sweden



Looking at history of Sweden history we find that groups of people have been coming to this country for centuries. Examples of this kind of "historical" immigration include:

1) Hanseatic Germans in the Middle Ages

2) Finns who settled in the Mälardalen valley region around Stockholm in the 16th century
3) Gypsies or Roma who began arriving as early as the 16th century
4) Walloons who were brought over to teach Swedes the iron trade in the late 17th century
5) Savolax-Carelian Finns granted tax relief if they settled in primeval forest land in the 17th century – in the area now known as "Finn Territory".
6) Jews who were allowed to settle in four Swedish towns in the 18th century
7) French artists, philosophers and intellectuals in the 18th century
8) Italian stuccoists when the stone towns of the 19th century were being built
9) Scots who among other things started breweries.

Mass emigration a threat to the nation
Even if Sweden has always attracted a certain amount of immigration, it is the mass emigration of Swedes from the mid-19th century up until 1930 that has had the greatest effect on the country’s development and left the deepest impression in people’s minds. A considerable number of families in Sweden still have family connections in the US, Canada, South America or Australia. Over a period of some 100 years, about 1.3 million Swedes moved ‘over there’ to seek their fortunes, due to:

1) poverty
2) religious persecution
3) lack of faith in the future
4) political constraints
5) a craving for adventure
6) "‘gold fever" and the like.

The First World War along with immigration curbs in the US slowed the rate of emigration, which had become a major problem in Swedish society. In conjunction with the Second World War, Sweden moved from being an emigrant country to being an immigrant country. Every year since 1930, except for a couple of years in the 1970s, immigration has exceeded emigration.

War refugees and the influx of labour in the 1950s and 1960s

It was the refugees from Germany, from Sweden’s Nordic neighbours and from the Baltic States that transformed Sweden from an emigrant country into an immigrant country during the course of the Second World War. Many of these refugees returned to their native countries after the war, but a large number remained, among them most of the Balts.

In the post-war period, immigration was dominated instead by immigrant labour from other parts of Scandinavia as well as from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Turkey and other countries. Sometimes, people were brought here in organized groups, by the labour market authorities, but mostly they found their way to Sweden themselves.

Regulated immigration in the 1970s

In the late 1960s, regulated immigration was introduced in Sweden, which meant that by parliamentary decree people wishing to come here as immigrants had to have been granted residence permits prior to entry. Those wishing to come to Sweden to work were required to have a written offer of employment, and their cases were subjected to a labour market check by what was then the Swedish Immigration Board, together with the employers’ and employees’ organisations. This meant that permits were only granted where the country was in need of that particular type of foreign labour. If there were unemployed persons in Sweden capable of performing the job in question, no permit was granted.

But the following groups were exempted from labour market checks:

1) Nordic citizens, who since 1951 had enjoyed the right to settle and work wherever they liked in the Nordic area without special permission of any kind.
2) refugees
3) close relatives wishing to be united or reunited with their families in Sweden.

The new policy of regulated immigration had the following effects in the 1970s:

1) the influx of non-Nordic immigrant labour slowed
2) Nordic immigration – especially from Finland – increased dramatically for a few years, only to decline equally dramatically when the Finnish economy picked up
3) there was an increase in non-Nordic immigration by reason of family ties, i e in the arrival of family members
refugees arrived at intervals, usually in connection with wars or crises, such as the military coup in Chile in 1973.

The 1980s – decade of the asylum-seeker

In the mid-1980s, asylum-seekers from Iran and Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Eritrea began to increase in number throughout Western Europe. Towards the end of the decade, people from Somalia, Kosovo and several of the former states of East Europe began to join the queue of asylum-seekers. With the collapse of communist oppression, it became easier for people to leave their country while at the same time living conditions there initially deteriorated rather than improved.

Waits for asylum cases in Sweden to be settled grew ever longer, the number of refugee centres increased steadily, and more and more people had their applications turned down as it was not always persecution that had caused them to flee their countries. Instead, the reasons were often poverty, lack of faith in the future and a dream of a better future in Western Europe than could reasonably be expected at home.

The 1990s – a time of ethnic cleansing

The 1990s brought both positive and negative developments. On the positive side we witnessed the end of the Cold War, the shift towards democracy and the beginnings of economic development in several of the former communist dictatorships. A number of lengthy wars came to an end, e g in Lebanon, Eritrea, Iran-Iraq, and the number of asylum-seekers began to fall.

On the negative side, we witnessed the collapse of the Yugoslav empire with the ensuing division of the country and the descent of the region into war, terror and ethnic cleansing. For the first time since the Second World War, huge numbers of people were in flight in the heart of Europe. In Sweden, over 100,000 ex-Yugoslavs, mostly Bosnians, were found a new home.

As the new millennium approached, Sweden was one of the many countries that evacuated fleeing Kosovo Albanians from Macedonia in a joint action under UNHCR auspices. The aim was to provide the 3,600 evacuated to Sweden with temporary protection pending the time when their native country would become a safe haven and reconstruction could begin.


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