Sweden will review ways to increase voluntary return migration, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard announced on Wednesday, which the opposition considers yet another illustration of the far-right’s influence on the Swedish government.
In a new demonstration of Sweden’s more rigid stance on immigration, Stenergard declared on Wednesday that The Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) has been tasked with reviewing how to increase voluntary return migration.
“Return has been a poorly treated area in Swedish politics, and the Swedish Migration Board has not focused on it. We want to see a change in this area,” Stenergard told Dagens Nyheter. The Swedish government targets the large groups that have come to Sweden in recent decades and who, according to Stenergard, have not managed to integrate into Swedish society.
In 2021, 20% of the Swedish population (two million people) was born abroad, and 33% of the Swedish population has at least one parent born abroad, according to the Swedish Office of Statistics.
“People who are resident in Sweden and who want to move back to their home countries should be given information about the possibilities for return and the help and support they can get,” the government stated in a press release earlier this week.
However, for the social-democratic opposition – in power from 2008 until 2022- the discussion around voluntary return is a clear sign of the influence of the far-right Sweden Democrat (SD) on the Swedish government.
“It´s obvious that even if the right-wing party – the Swedish Democrats (SD) – does not have a seat in the government, it is SD that rules. The Swedish government has become completely addicted to right-wing extremists,” Social Democrat MEP Carina Ohlsson told EURACTIV.
“The influence of SD is more than obvious here,” MEP Carina Ohlsson said. [European Parliament]
The Sweden Democrats are not formally part of the Swedish government, but they offered their necessary support to the centre-right ruling coalition – Moderates, Christian Democrats and Liberals – in exchange for implementing their hard-line immigration policy.
“Why does the Swedish government want to send people back to their home countries?”, asked Ohlsson. “These people have good reasons to stay and need protection in Sweden; otherwise, they would not have received an accepted asylum application in the first place.”
“The influence of SD is more than obvious here,” she added.
On their part, the Sweden Democrats do not hide their satisfaction with the announcement made by the government.
Ludvig Aspling, SD’s migration spokesperson, described migration as an issue close to the heart of the Sweden Democrats. However, he emphasised that the return migrations should not be compulsory and will only happen voluntarily if necessary, helped by financial incentives.
“This could involve education or paying for children to attend school. It depends very much on the conditions in the different countries,” Aspling said.
Nevertheless, critics have pointed out that large investments in return migration risk being an expensive burden for the Swedish taxpayers and that a clear plan remains to be presented.
“For now, we have just seen words from the Swedish government and no real action. We still wait for concrete proposals in line with the paradigm shift they always refer to,” Ohlsson said, adding that this move was “another populistic statement that is not grounded in reality.”
A study on how voluntary return can be stimulated through financial incentives and other support measures will be appointed shortly by the Swedish government.
In the last ten years, only 46 people have been granted financial support to leave Sweden, according to statistics from the Migration Agency.
Last month, the Swedish government made its intentions clear when it comes to migration by launching a campaign discouraging migrants from coming to the country
The campaign included targeted communication to foreign editorial offices and news agencies as well as to foreign embassies in Sweden.
“This government was elected, among other things, on a mandate to create a paradigm shift in migration policy. This requires many major changes”, Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard had said.
Contacted by EURACTIV, the European Commission was not immediately available to comment.
(Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com)