Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Sweden Witnesses ‘Reverse Migration’ Phenomenon

Swedish Language Learning and Social Integration Training Center for New Immigrants and Refugees (Getty Images)
Swedish Language Learning and Social Integration Training Center for New Immigrants and Refugees (Getty Images)
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Sweden Witnesses ‘Reverse Migration’ Phenomenon

Swedish Language Learning and Social Integration Training Center for New Immigrants and Refugees (Getty Images)
Swedish Language Learning and Social Integration Training Center for New Immigrants and Refugees (Getty Images)

Azza, aged 35, arrived in Sweden 11 years ago to join her husband through family reunification programs. She dedicated much effort to learning Swedish, getting her university degree recognized, and taking extra courses to re-enter the nursing field.

She described her time in Sweden as “a dream come true, unlike anywhere else in the world.”

“The opportunities Sweden offers are unmatched for those who know how to make the most of them,” Azza told Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt.

“What the country provides here cannot be compared to any other place, which is why we chose Sweden,” she added.

Despite her success, Azza is now planning to move back to Saudi Arabia, where she was born and raised in a Syrian family.

Reflecting on her decision, she said: “Initially, we focused on starting anew, but we eventually missed social connections.”

“The relationship between locals and newcomers is challenging, especially for someone like me,” added Azza.

“Here, social life feels muted, lacking interaction and acceptance. Swedish society values individualism, while we as immigrants often prioritize community ties and socializing,” she explained.

Evolving the Concept of Integration

In the past, Sweden aimed to integrate waves of immigrants, encouraging them to adopt the host society's norms while setting aside their own cultural and community traits. This approach was particularly felt by Iraqis arriving after 2003.

Today, the focus has shifted to celebrating cultural diversity and promoting a multicultural society. The aim is for immigrants to maintain their identities while gaining equal economic, social, and political opportunities in Sweden.

However, this shift has drawbacks, potentially isolating immigrants within closed circles.

According to Azza, immigrants can feel “trapped” because Swedish citizens often rely on state programs for integration, which she finds disappointing in their outcomes.

Meanwhile, the issue of integration is a contentious topic in media and political circles, particularly as far-right parties gain influence across several European nations, not just in Sweden.

“We’re blamed for the isolation we face here, as well as unemployment, and a host of economic, social, psychological, cultural, and health issues resulting from integration failures,” noted Azza.

“We've become a political pawn for right-wing parties,” she added.

“We’re living in the moment, trying to combat isolation and depression through yoga, long forest walks, indoor running, or attending mostly lackluster music events, all documented on social media to convince ourselves we’re okay and to find a glimmer of hope,” complained Azza.

Azza is not alone in Sweden. “Reverse migration” has become a notable trend, especially among immigrants and refugees.

Swedish national statistics show that in 2022, 50,592 migrants left the country, including 37% of those born in Sweden to Swedish parents, for various reasons.

By the end of 2023, more than 66,000 people had emigrated from Sweden, a worrying trend alongside a sharp decline in birth rates that has led to the lowest population growth since 2001.

Engineer Amer Baroudi, who moved to a Gulf country two years ago after living in Sweden with his family for eight years, shared his experience of reverse migration.

He found the move more suitable for his family, especially in terms of social security and raising children according to Arab values.

Baroudi explains that one of the main reasons for leaving Sweden was the rise of the far-right and their influence on immigration policies, which increasingly hindered integration efforts.

He described escalating racist rhetoric in both official and social settings, affecting workplaces and indicating institutional racism.

“Immigrants are often treated as second-class citizens, facing accusations of disloyalty to Sweden and threats of citizenship revocation,” Baroudi told Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt.

“There’s talk of creating security zones where police can search immigrants and their children in public without cause,” he revealed.

Baroudi also highlighted the negative portrayal of social welfare services and the absence of official explanations for their role amidst growing anti-immigrant sentiment on social media.

Recent fears among immigrants, especially Muslims, of incidents labeled as “child kidnappings,” have led many to consider leaving Sweden or seeking other options.

A Swedish institution, established in the early 1990s, holds broad powers that sometimes override court decisions, allowing it to remove children from families if they face abuse or if their home environment is deemed unsafe due to issues like domestic violence, drug abuse, or other dangers.

In the past five years, there has been a peak in children being taken away, mostly from immigrant backgrounds, and placed in state care or with foster families.

The institution claims it does not target immigrants specifically but operates based on circumstances, leading to higher numbers from certain groups.

The handling of crises within social services has been notable for employee misconduct, secrecy, and delayed transparency from authorities, framing issues solely in terms of Sweden’s security concerns and deepening societal divides.

Media reports revealed that in 2022, 200 out of 240 removed children were involved in crime, including incidents within care homes, highlighting how marginalized children become vulnerable to exploitation by organized crime.

This trend is evident in rising gang activities, violent crimes, and shootings in immigrant areas, reinforcing stereotypes and fueling populist rhetoric against immigrants.

Due to mistrust and a divisive narrative, immigrant families often do not engage in state efforts to prevent child recruitment, perpetuating a cycle of marginalization and discrimination.

Ultimately, many like Baroudi choose to leave, feeling alienated and stressed, describing life as an escape from a large prison where they do not feel they belong.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Palestinian Athletes Told to Take 'Resistance' to the Olympics

Valerie Tarazi will compete in the swimming for the Palestine delegation at the Paris Olympics - AFP
Valerie Tarazi will compete in the swimming for the Palestine delegation at the Paris Olympics - AFP
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Palestinian Athletes Told to Take 'Resistance' to the Olympics

Valerie Tarazi will compete in the swimming for the Palestine delegation at the Paris Olympics - AFP
Valerie Tarazi will compete in the swimming for the Palestine delegation at the Paris Olympics - AFP

Eight Palestinian athletes taking part in the Paris Olympics will be symbols of "resistance" during the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, a Palestinian minister said Sunday as the official delegation left the occupied West Bank.

This will be the eighth time Palestinian athletes have taken part in the Olympics since 1996, but Olympic committee head Jibril Rajoub said the athletes had never felt so much attention.

The athletes are preparing for the start of the Paris Games on July 26 in a "very dark moment in our history", said Palestinian authority minister of state for foreign affairs Varsen Aghabekian Shahin, AFP reported.

"You are not just athletes, you are also ... symbols of Palestinian resistance," Aghabekian added.

French organizers have stepped up security in Paris because of the conflict. But Rajoub said: "We want this participation to be a message from the Palestinians to the world that it is time for them to be free in their homeland."

"Through this participation, we want to present the suffering of the Palestinian people and the unprecedented killing taking place in Gaza," he added.

Rajoub said 400 athletes, coaches and sporting officials in Gaza have been killed or wounded since the start of the war on October 7.

Majed Abu Marahil, a long distance runner who was the first Palestinian to compete in an Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, died in June. According to officials, he suffered kidney failure and could not get treatment as Gaza's hospitals have been devastated by the conflict.

Rajoub said getting athletes to Paris "is already a victory".

The eight will compete in athletics, swimming, archery, taekwondo, judo and boxing. One secured a place through regular qualifying and seven were given special invitations.

Swimmer Valerie Tarazi, 24, has US and Palestinian nationality and won titles at the Arab Games last year in Algeria.

"My heart aches for them," she said of the Gaza people. Tarazi said she has relatives in Gaza and speaks with them nearly every day.

"Being in Paris on behalf of Palestine is a very important thing, and taking part in a global swimming competition at a time when there are no places to train is surreal," she said.