Skip to main content


How Sweden got immigration wrong

Stockholm at sunset. Getty

Sweden has always been a country with a high degree of “cultural sameness”, says Ed West in Wrong Side of History. Its social institutions – particularly the “generous welfare system” – are built around a strong national identity and “high levels of trust”. But this social cohesion is waning. Sweden is now among Europe’s most violent countries: last year saw 342 shootings, up from just 25 in 2015. There are now 60 neighbourhoods over which police say they have “little control”; massive riots earlier this year injured around 300 officers. And however “vulgar” it sounds, these problems are in part down to immigration: particularly “the type and quantity” Sweden has absorbed.

Unlike countries such as Australia and Canada, which compete for the “most dynamic and intelligent migrants”, the pro-immigration cartel ruling Sweden embraced people from “the most dysfunctional societies” imaginable. Between 1980 and 2005, half of its 400,000 residence permits went on reuniting the families of asylum seekers. This is a “compassionate” but “ill-advised” policy: these people weren’t seeking the “Swedish way of life”, but instead wanted to make Sweden more like their home countries of Afghanistan and Syria. This eroded the traditional social mores that allowed Sweden’s institutions to function, contributing to the current wave of crime and making life “considerably crummier”. No wonder the anti-immigrant, far-right Sweden Democrats have become so popular. As one former liberal voter put it, Sweden has “been too naive”.