The national-conservative Sweden Democrats have unleashed another round of debate about Sweden's immigration policy by demanding a total stop to asylum and family immigration.
"Sweden needs a total stop, for all immigration that constitutes a social, cultural, or economic burden and a moratorium on the reception of quota refugees", their leader Jimmie Åkesson tweeted.
Vårt land behöver ett totalstopp för all asyl- och anhöriginvandring, inklusive kvotflyktingar.— Jimmie Åkesson (@jimmieakesson) February 18, 2021
Sverige behöver ett totalstopp, för all invandring som utgör en social, kulturell eller ekonomisk belastning och ett moratorium för mottagande av kvotflyktingar.
"The serious problems that our country has suffered in the wake of at least thirty years of deeply irresponsible migration policy are of a cultural, social, and economic nature. It's not a secret, probably not to anyone, and it's definitely not something new for my party to raise this issue. There is of course migration that is good and completely natural, which is why I was extra clear about the type of migration that must be stopped completely, given the serious situation in Sweden", Åkesson explained his stance to the newspaper Aftonbladet.
The Sweden Democrats calls to limit immigration, however, stirred a ripple of criticism, not only from their left-of-centre rivals who traditionally see immigration in a more favourable light, but also from the right wing of the Swedish political landscape.
"People on the run as a 'cultural burden'. We also remember the Sweden Democrats' discussion about who is Swedish. The Sweden Democrats' policy and rhetoric are getting radicalised as the public debate pushes its boundaries", Centre Party leader Annie Lööf tweeted.
Människor på flykt som ”kulturell belastning”. Vi minns också den sverigdemokratiska diskussionen om vem som är svensk.— Annie Lööf (@annieloof) February 18, 2021
Sverigedemokraternas politik och retorik radikaliseras i takt med att samhällsdebatten tänjer sina gränser. pic.twitter.com/VIXv2bV1Jd
Her party colleague Martin Ådal decried Åkesson's choice of words as racist.
"This is how he sees Sweden in 2021. This is not my Sweden. How have we allowed the public conversation to derail in this way?", Annika Strandhäll of the ruling Social Democrat party said.
Burundi-born Liberal Party leader Nyamko Sabuni also condemned Åkesson's demands. "Angry outbursts against immigrants on Twitter are unbecoming of a party leader. The way forward for Sweden is to have a long-term sustainable migration policy, not the collective blaming of immigrants that the Sweden Democrats engage in".
Even the liberal-conservative Moderate Party, which has recently opened up for cooperation with the Sweden Democrats on just immigration policy, was critical. Moderates immigration spokeswoman Maria Malmer Stenergard emphasised that the country's problems with immigration are "obvious" and that a "strict policy" is needed, but disapproved of the idea of speaking of people as a burden.
Still, the Sweden Democrats, currently polling as Sweden's third-largest party, stuck to their guns.
"Immigration of hundreds of thousands of people from foreign cultures with completely different basic norms and values from those who built our Swedish society becomes – without a doubt – a burden economically, socially, AND culturally", Åkesson tweeted notwithstanding the wave of criticism.
Invandring av hundratusentals människor från främmande kulturer med helt andra grundläggande normer och värderingar än de som byggt vårt svenska samhälle blir — ställt utom allt tvivel — en belastning ekonomiskt, socialt OCH kulturellt.— Jimmie Åkesson (@jimmieakesson) February 19, 2021
"The consequences of the immigration disaster are of an economic, social, AND cultural nature. It is a harsh statement rather than an opinion, and cannot come as a shock to someone who has not been living under a rock in recent years", the Sweden Democrats tweeted.
Konsekvenserna av migrationshaveriet är av ekonomisk, social OCH kulturell art. Det är ett krasst konstaterande snarare än en åsikt och kan inte komma som en chock för någon som inte levt under en sten de senaste åren.https://t.co/EYbwKvCbKZ— Sverigedemokraterna (@sdriks) February 19, 2021
Since embracing mass immigration in the 1980s, Sweden has gone from one of Europe's most homogeneous nations to one of the most ethnically diverse. Combined with demographic trends such as low nativity, the share of the population with a foreign background has been rising steadily in recent decades.
According to Statistics Sweden, 26 percent of the country's registered inhabitants have a foreign background, compared to 15 percent in 2000. If counted with a method now considered outdated, where having at least one foreign-born parent counts as foreign background, the proportion is 33 percent.
The ruling Social Democrats, who led Sweden throughout most of the 20th century, seem to have directly benefited from immigration, as research indicates that the majority of immigrants tend to vote for left-of-centre parties.
The tone of the public debate on the issue has chaged somewhat since Prime Minister Stefan Löfven admitted integration problems and even a link with crime. Still, most Swedish parties remain in favour of immigration.