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)

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 Asharq Al-Awsat.

“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 Asharq Al-Awsat.

“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.

Biden's Withdrawal Injects Uncertainty Into Wars, Trade Disputes and Other Foreign Policy Challenges

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Biden's Withdrawal Injects Uncertainty Into Wars, Trade Disputes and Other Foreign Policy Challenges

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Joe Biden's withdrawal from the US presidential race injects greater uncertainty into the world at a time when Western leaders are grappling with wars in Ukraine and Gaza, a more assertive China in Asia and the rise of the far-right in Europe.
During a five-decade career in politics, Biden developed extensive personal relationships with multiple foreign leaders that none of the potential replacements on the Democratic ticket can match. After his announcement, messages of support and gratitude for his years of service poured in from near and far, said The Associated Press.
The scope of foreign policy challenges facing the next US president makes clear how consequential what happens in Washington is for the rest of the planet. Here's a look at some of them.
ISRAEL With Vice President Kamala Harris being eyed as a potential replacement for Biden, Israelis on Sunday scrambled to understand what her candidacy would mean for their country as it confronts increasing global isolation over its military campaign against Hamas.
Israel’s left-wing Haaretz daily newspaper ran a story scrutinizing Harris’ record of support for Israel, pointing to her reputation as Biden’s “bad cop" who has vocally admonished Israel for its offensive in Gaza. In recent months, she has gone further than Biden in calling for a cease-fire, denouncing Israel's invasion of Rafah and expressing horror over the civilian death toll in Gaza.
“With Biden leaving, Israel has lost perhaps the last Zionist president,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “A new Democratic candidate will upend the dynamic.”
Biden's staunch defense of Israel since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack has its roots in his half-century of support for the country as a senator, vice president, then president. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant thanked Biden for his “unwavering support of Israel over the years.”
“Your steadfast backing, especially during the war, has been invaluable,” Gallant wrote on X.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog praised Biden as a “symbol of the unbreakable bond between our two peoples" and a “true ally of the Jewish people.” There was no immediate reaction from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an ally of former President Donald Trump whose history of cordial relations with Biden has come under strain during the Israel-Hamas war.
UKRAINE Any Democratic candidate would likely continue Biden’s legacy of staunch military support for Ukraine. But frustration with the Biden administration has grown in Ukraine and Europe over the slow pace of US aid and restrictions on the use of Western weapons.
“Most Europeans realize that Ukraine is increasingly going to be their burden,” said Sudha David-Wilp, director of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund, a research institute. “Everyone is trying to get ready for all the possible outcomes.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on X that he respected the “tough but strong decision” by Biden to drop out of the campaign, and he thanked Biden for his help “in preventing (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from occupying our country.”
Trump has promised to end Russia's war on Ukraine in one day if he is elected — a prospect that has raised fears in Ukraine that Russia might be allowed to keep the territory it occupies.
Trump's vice presidential pick, Ohio Sen. JD Vance, is among Congress’ most vocal opponents of US aid for Ukraine and has further raised the stakes for Kyiv.
Russia, meanwhile, dismissed the importance of the race, insisting that no matter what happened, Moscow would press on in Ukraine.
“We need to pay attention,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by a pro-Russian tabloid. “We need to watch what will happen and do our own thing."
CHINA In recent months, both Biden and Trump have tried to show voters who can best stand up to Beijing’s growing military strength and belligerence and protect US businesses and workers from low-priced Chinese imports. Biden has hiked tariffs on electric vehicles from China, and Trump has promised to implement tariffs of 60% on all Chinese products.
Trump’s “America First” doctrine exacerbated tensions with Beijing. But disputes with the geopolitical rival and economic colossus over wars, trade, technology and security continued into Biden's term.
China's official reaction to the US presidential race has been careful. The official Xinhua news agency treated the story of Biden’s decision as relatively minor. The editor of the party-run Global Times newspaper, Hu Xijin, downplayed the impact of Biden's withdrawal.
“Whoever becomes the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party may be the same," he wrote on X. “Voters are divided into two groups, Trump voters and Trump haters.”
IRAN With Iran's proxies across the Middle East increasingly entangled in the Israel-Hamas war, the US confronts a region in disarray.
Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis struck Tel Aviv for the first time last week, prompting retaliatory Israeli strikes inside war-torn Yemen. Simmering tensions and cross-border attacks between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group and the Israeli military have raised fears of an all-out regional conflagration.
Hamas, which also receives support from Iran, continues to fight Israel even nine months into a war that has killed 38,000 Palestinians and displaced over 80% of Gaza's population.
The US and its allies have accused Iran of expanding its nuclear program and enriching uranium to an unprecedented 60% level, near-weapons-grade levels.
After then-President Trump in 2018 withdrew from Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers, Biden said he wanted to reverse his predecessor's hawkish anti-Iran stance. But the Biden administration has maintained severe economic sanctions against Iran and overseen failed attempts to renegotiate the agreement.
The sudden death of Ebrahim Raisi — the supreme leader's hard-line protege — in a helicopter crash vaulted a new reformist to the presidency in Iran, generating new opportunities and risks. Masoud Pezeshkian has said he wants to help Iran open up to the world but has maintained a defiant tone against the US.
EUROPE AND NATO Many Europeans were happy to see Trump go after his years of disparaging the European Union and undermining NATO. Trump's seemingly dismissive attitude toward European allies in last month's presidential debate did nothing to assuage those concerns.
Biden, on the other hand, has supported close American relations with bloc leaders.
That closeness was on stark display after Biden's decision to bow out of the race. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called his choice “probably the most difficult one in your life.” The newly installed British prime minister, Keir Starmer, said he respected Biden’s “decision based on what he believes is in the best interests of the American people.”
There was also an outpouring of affection from Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris, who called Biden a “proud American with an Irish soul."
The question of whether NATO can maintain its momentum in supporting Ukraine and checking the ambitions of other authoritarian states hangs in the balance of this presidential election, analysts say.
“They don't want to see Donald Trump as president. So there's quite a bit of relief but also quite a bit of nervousness" about Biden's decision to drop out, said Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Like many in the United States, but perhaps more so, they are really quite confused.”
MEXICO The close relationship between Mexico and the US has been marked in recent years by disagreements over trade, energy and climate change. Since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took power in 2018, both countries have found common ground on the issue of migration – with Mexico making it more difficult for migrants to cross its country to the US border and the US not pressing on other issues.
The López Obrador administration kept that policy while Trump was president and continued it into Biden's term.
On Friday, Mexico’s president called Trump “a friend” and said he would write to him to warn him against pledging to close the border or blaming migrants for bringing drugs into the United States.
“I am going to prove to him that migrants don’t carry drugs to the United States,” he said, adding that “closing the border won’t solve anything, and anyway, it can’t be done.”