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WikiLeaks: 2008-08-08: 08STOCKHOLM557: Muslim Engagement in Sweden

by WikiLeaks. 08STOCKHOLM557: August 08, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 04:32 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08STOCKHOLM557 2008-08-08 09:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Stockholm
DE RUEHSM #0557/01 2210900
P 080900Z AUG 08
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: A. A) STOCKHOLM 0213 2008 
     B. B) STOCKHOLM 0208 2008 
     C. C) STOCKHOLM 0117 2008 
     D. D) STOCKHOLM 1487 2007 
     E. E) STOCKHOLM 1448 2007 
     F. F) STOCKHOLM 0555 2007 
     G. G) STOCKHOLM 1940 2006 
1. (U) Muslim immigrants have achieved substantial but uneven 
success in Sweden.  They represent four to five percent of 
Sweden's population of nine million people, comprised of 
Iraqis (100,000), Iranians (56,000), Bosnian Muslims 
(40,000), Turks (38,000), Somalis (35,000), and smaller 
numbers from Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan.  They include 
leading academics, business figures, media personalities, and 
politicians.  But Muslims still face high informal barriers 
to employment, housing discrimination, and integration 
challenges in Sweden. 
2. (SBU) In the nearly two years since we launched an 
outreach program to Sweden's diverse Muslim minority, Post 
has developed an extensive network of contacts and 
implemented a wide range of activities, from roundtables and 
meetings with key leaders to exchange programs, conferences, 
and seminars on minority entrepreneurship.  Government and 
immigrant leaders increasingly recognize that Sweden's 
welfare-based model is failing immigrants.  In their search 
for new approaches, these leaders are turning to the U.S.'s 
experience with integration as a model for Sweden's own 
transformation.  In the coming year, Post sees an opportunity 
to deepen engagement, focused on practical concerns, such as 
breaking down job barriers and fostering entrepreneurship. 
3. (U) Sweden has a long history of immigration from Finland 
and other northern European countries, but its experience 
with immigrants from Muslim countries is relatively recent, 
beginning in the 1960s and 70s with Turkish labor migration. 
In the 1980s, Sweden started to welcome refugees from Iran 
and Iraq in large numbers, as well as smaller numbers of 
Palestinians, Moroccans, Lebanese, and Syrians.  The early 
1990s saw a large influx of Bosnian Muslims and the first of 
two groups of Somali refugees.  Today Muslims constitute the 
largest religious minority in Sweden, with an estimated 
350,000 to 450,000 adherents, or approximately four to five 
percent of the population (ref G). 
4. (SBU) Sweden does not collect demographic information 
about religious affiliation, but official statistics by 
country of origin are available: 
--more than 100,000 immigrants come from Iraq; 
--Iranian-born immigrants number 56,000 (Post's Iranian 
interlocutors estimate the entire Iranian community at 
--an estimated 40,000 of Sweden's more than 130,000 Balkan 
immigrants are Bosnian Muslims; 
--immigrants from Turkey number about 38,000; 
--the Somali community is the fifth largest, with 
approximately 35,000 members; and 
--smaller numbers of immigrants come from Lebanon (23,000), 
Syria (18,000) and Afghanistan (10,000). 
Assyrian and Chaldaean Christians as well as Muslims comprise 
a significant proportion of immigrant populations from Iraq, 
Syria and Iran. 
5. (SBU) According to Sweden's Central Statistics Bureau, 
family reunification plays a growing role and now contributes 
about half of new immigrants.  A large minority of new 
arrivals are asylum seekers, many of whom are in fact 
economic migrants smuggled to Sweden on forged documents. 
Until early 2008, over 80 percent were granted asylum in 
Sweden and were able to take advantage of generous social 
benefits.  As Sweden rejects a growing proportion of asylum 
claims, more asylum-seekers are going underground.  Officials 
estimate approximately 15,000 immigrants are undocumented. 
STOCKHOLM 00000557  002 OF 004 
6. (SBU) Sweden has to some extent to date avoided the 
divisive public debate that characterizes immigration in many 
other European countries.  The far-right Sweden Democrats 
(Sweden's anti-immigration party) has elected representatives 
at the local level in the south of Sweden, but has so far not 
succeeded in crossing the four percent threshold to be 
represented in national parliament.  In contrast, Norway and 
Denmark both have anti-immigrant parties in their 
parliaments.  Sweden has strong legal protections for 
minorities, welcoming asylum and immigration policies, and 
generous settlement benefits.  Muslims are represented in 
prominent positions in academia, business, politics, and the 
media.  In contrast to parliaments in other European 
countries with large Muslim minorities, such as France and 
Germany, Sweden's parliament is relatively inclusive.  Five 
out of 349 members have Muslim immigrant backgrounds, 
including one from Turkey, three from Iran (of whom two are 
Kurds), and one Iraqi Kurdish immigrant. 
7. (SBU) Nevertheless, unemployment among Muslim immigrants 
is several times higher - about 75 percent in several 
communities - than the national average, which is about six 
percent, violent crime is several times more likely than 
among native Swedes, and immigrants tend to live in 
segregated neighborhoods.  Honor violence is widespread, 
according to a survey by Swedish Radio that found 60 percent 
of social service providers in Sweden have assisted victims 
of such crimes.  Official statistics show that immigrants 
from Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan are least successful at 
integrating, with employment rates around 20 percent for 
women and 35 percent for men (in contrast, Iranians have been 
successful at integrating, with levels of educational 
achievement comparable to Sweden's national average).  Iraq 
and Somalia currently contribute the largest number of new 
refugees to Sweden.  Most of these new arrivals settle into 
segregated communities of disaffected first- and 
second-generation immigrants.  Raised in isolation from the 
rest of Swedish society, second-generation youth describe a 
feeling of alienation and a conflict between their Muslim and 
Swedish identities that make them vulnerable to 
radicalization (ref C). 
8. (SBU) Swedish government officials and immigrant community 
leaders largely agree on the causes of this integration 
failure: although officially welcome, Muslim immigrants face 
widespread informal barriers to employment, housing 
discrimination, and a society that is traditionally closed to 
outsiders (ref B).  Combined with generous social welfare 
benefits, these factors have led to what Integration Minister 
Nyamko Sabuni, who came to Sweden from Burundi as a child, 
described as a new immigrant social landscape of 
unemployment, dependence on welfare and entrenched housing 
segregation (ref D). 
9. (SBU) The relative absence of hostility in Sweden's 
immigration debate allows for a constructive dialogue 
unconstrained by flashpoint issues.  Mounting budgetary 
pressure on the welfare approach to integration and growing 
support for the still marginal far-right Sweden Democrats in 
Parliament could endanger this calm, particularly in the 
event of an economic downturn. 
10. (SBU) The influx of tens of thousands of refugees and 
asylum seekers from Iraq since 2006 has strained Sweden's 
welfare-based approach to integration, nearly tripling the 
demand for placements in introduction programs for refugees 
and asylum seekers from 8,700 in 2005 to about 30,000 per 
year since then.  The government has responded by seeking, 
thus far unsuccessfully, greater burden-sharing with other EU 
countries and the U.S., and by sharply reducing the number of 
Iraqi asylum-seekers who are granted residency. 
11. (SBU) The recognition that Sweden's welfare-based model 
is failing immigrants and that the cost of absorbing record 
numbers of new refugees is unsustainable has prompted the 
current center-right government to look for new approaches, 
including partnerships with the private sector, lowering 
barriers to employment for immigrants, expanding job 
training, and shortening the introduction process for newly 
arrived refugees (ref D).  Concerned that foreign imams 
unfamiliar with Swedish society and values are radicalizing 
Muslim youth, the government has appointed a commission to 
STOCKHOLM 00000557  003 OF 004 
study the possibility of a special training program for imams 
(ref A).  Some of the changes are inspired by the U.S. model 
and complemented by a dialogue with the U.S. Embassy, 
initiated as part of Post's Muslim engagement program. 
12. (SBU) Post's Muslim interlocutors often express concern 
about the welfare dependency that the Swedish system has 
fostered, and some immigrant leaders are calling for reforms 
modeled on U.S. welfare reform in the 1990s, which emphasized 
job training and introduced a time limit for welfare 
recipients.  Post contacts are universally aware that 
immigrants to the U.S. benefit from lower barriers to 
employment and entrepreneurship and a more flexible labor 
market, and they welcome Post's efforts to engage with 
government leaders on these issues. 
13. (U) According to Nima Samandaji, a Kurdish-Iranian 
immigrant who heads the free-market think tank Captus, 
welfare dependency among first-generation immigrants from 
non-Western countries is nine times higher than among 
native-born Swedes.  In an article in the online 
English-language news site "The Local", Samandaji urged 
Swedish policymakers to &learn from the constructive way in 
which welfare dependency was reduced on the other side of the 
Atlantic.8  The growing interest at all levels of Swedish 
society in learning from the U.S. experience with integration 
and welfare reform represents an opportunity for Post to 
deepen engagement on these issues. 
14. (SBU) Nearly two years after Post launched a new strategy 
for engagement with Sweden's Muslim communities, most of the 
activities then envisioned have been carried out.  The 
program has been most successful with initiatives focused on 
practical issues, such as breaking down job barriers and 
fostering entrepreneurship, rather than ideological debates. 
Highlights include the following: 
--In summer 2007, Post sponsored a week-long series of 
entrepreneurship seminars by Somali-American business leaders 
that directly reached more than one percent of the Somali 
community across Sweden and resulted in extensive positive 
media coverage and the opening of three new immigrant-owned 
businesses (ref E). 
--Regular meetings with Muslim leaders helped Emboffs gain a 
better understanding of the issues facing Sweden's Muslim 
community and built a platform for ongoing engagement. 
--Roundtable discussions in immigrant communities across 
Sweden enabled Emboffs to learn about integration challenges 
in Sweden from a more diverse audience and to showcase the 
positive U.S. experience with immigration. 
--Visits to Islamic associations, schools and places of 
worship were nearly always warmly received and have produced 
a substantive dialogue with a growing number and range of 
contacts about the role these institutions play in fostering 
integration and concrete avenues for future cooperation with 
the Embassy. 
--Two visits by EUR Senior Advisor for Muslim Engagement 
Farah Pandith enabled a higher-level dialogue with government 
and Muslim leaders and provided guidance and intellectual 
foment for Post's efforts (ref B, H). 
--A conference on education as a gateway to integration 
attracted a diverse audience of more than 100 current and 
former Fulbright grantees, academics and community leaders, 
including key Muslim contacts (ref F). 
--During 2007 and the first half of 2008, Post sent six 
Muslim community leaders on International Visitor Programs. 
Several of these contacts are collaborating with the Embassy 
on future outreach activities in their communities. 
15. (SBU) Swedish Muslim leaders consistently focus on one 
central issue in meetings and roundtables with Emboffs: 
employment is indispensable to integration, and overcoming 
informal barriers, which in Sweden include job discrimination 
and welfare dependency, is a top priority (ref B, D).  Post 
sought to address these issues through a minority internship 
program, launched in summer 2007 with the American Chamber of 
Commerce in Sweden (AmCham).  Although the business community 
was receptive to the idea, the project proved controversial 
with some partners because of Swedish cultural sensitivities 
about recruiting minority candidates.  After a successful 
STOCKHOLM 00000557  004 OF 004 
pilot with four interns placed with U.S. companies in 2007, 
the program was put on hold this year because a branch of 
Sweden's government employment agency that agreed to recruit 
and vet minority candidates for the program was closed for 
funding reasons. 
16. (SBU) Post plans to expand a range of ongoing engagement 
activities, including a series of &Building Bridges8 
roundtables, further meetings with key leaders, and visits to 
Muslim places of worship to deepen the dialogue on practical 
issues affecting integration.  In collaboration with the 
Fulbright Commission and the Swedish think tank Zufi, Post 
plans a follow-up to the 2007 Somali-American 
entrepreneurship visit next year aimed at social 
entrepreneurship and a younger audience.  The Citizen 
Dialogue program planned for the coming year will enable Post 
to build on the success of recent initiatives that involved 
visits by U.S. Muslims.  Post also plans to seek buy-in from 
AmCham members for a new minority internship program aimed at 
a larger, younger audience. 
17. (SBU) Post will continue to report on progress 


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