Sweden’s Minister of Employment, Ylva Johansson, is visiting Canada to learn about Canada’s immigration system and understand how newcomers are integrated into Canadian society.
Immigrant integration is a major issue for Sweden, with the country of 10 million people accepting 31,220 asylum seekers last year alone, according to figures from the Swedish Migration Agency. Although Canada accepted just 13,206 refugees in 2013 (figures for 2014 are unavailable), Canada admits a high number of economic migrants, who form a small percentage of migrants settling in Sweden.
This high number of asylum seekers arriving in Sweden from the Middle East has been a topic of heated debate in the Scandinavian nation. Many Swedes believe they are letting in too many refugees, leading to a surge in support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party in last year’s national election.
As employment minister, Johansson is responsible for the integration of migrants into the workforce. She says one of the biggest hurdles to integrating newcomers into Swedish society is finding them employment.
“The new arrivals are mostly refugees, so some of them have traumas and some of them come from countries with low-skills, maybe no education at all and so on, but many of them right now come from Syria and Iraq and they are quite well-educated. The challenge we face is how we can speed up the process into the labour market,” she said.
Johansson says the Swedish system hasn’t been well thought out, but that she is aiming to implement schemes like a fast-track system to match skilled migrants to jobs which require their skills. Johansson is looking to learn from the immigration system in Canada, where Canadian institutions and employers actively work together to integrate newcomers into society.
“What impresses me most is how this is regular in Canada. For universities, for municipalities, for employers to be part of this integrating newcomers into the society and into the labour market. This is not the normal case in Sweden,” she says.
Johansson has also been impressed by the resources made available to newcomers in Canada.
“I also learned about this program with settlement workers in schools that can help parents and children in schools and also help teachers. I think that should be valuable also for the Swedish society. And also how you can cooperate with the employers to build these bridges together with the educational institutions. We are trying to do this but I think you have come further with that.”
However, Johansson does have reservations about the fact that Canada admits a relatively low number of refugees. While Canada has pledged to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years, Sweden took in 16,386 Syrians last year alone.
“Canada is doing a lot when it comes to refugees,” says Johansson. “But I think that the case in the world, we have fifty million people that are refugees in the world right now. We’ve never ever had that situation since the Second World War, so I think that every country has to perform better for humanitarian reasons in this case, and I think also that Canada can do it.”
According to the UNHCR annual asylum trends report, Canada has remained at the bottom of the world’s top-15 refugee receiving countries.
In 2014 866,000 new asylum claims were lodged worldwide, a 45 per cent increase from 2013 and the highest level since 1992.
Syrians were by far the largest group among those seeking asylum in 2014, with 150,000 claims, or one-fifth of the total. Iraqis came second, accounting for 68,700 applications, double the number in 2013. Both countries are at war with Islamic State group extremists.
Antonio Guterres UN High Commissioner for Refugees says, “In the 1990s, the Balkan wars created hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers. Many of them found refuge in industrialized countries. Today, the surge in armed conflicts around the world presents us with similar challenges. Our response has to be just as generous now as it was then — providing access to asylum, resettlement opportunities and other forms of protection for the people fleeing these terrible conflicts” said.
In 2014, Canada received 13,500 asylum claims, about one-third more than the year before. The increase of claims in Canada was attributed to the significant drop in 2013, after Ottawa overhauled the refugee determination system in a bid to deter fraud and discourage asylum seekers from coming here.
In recent years, Canada has continued to rank at the bottom of the world’s top 15 refugee receiving countries.
Top-15 refugee receiving countries
Rank in 2014 (in 2013)
1. Germany (1)
2. USA (2)
3. Turkey (5)
4. Sweden (4)
5. Italy (7)
6. France (3)
7. Hungary (9)
9. Austria (10)
10. Holland (11)
11. Switzerland (8)
12. Serbia (20)
13. Denmark (18)
14. Belgium (14)
15. Canada (16)