In Sweden, the coronavirus reveals the failures of the integration model

In Sweden, people of foreign origin are among the groups most affected by the new coronavirus, a phenomenon that authorities are trying to contain through communication campaigns in several languages.

Known for its generous welcoming policy, this kingdom of 10.3 million people granted asylum and family reunification to more than 400,000 people between 2010 and 2019, according to immigration services.

However, given the flow of migrants, the country reestablished border controls in late 2015 and tightened reception conditions.

For many of the newcomers, integration has been difficult: thousands of immigrants do not speak Swedish and are unemployed in a highly skilled labor market.

They live in slums on the outskirts of big cities, where little Swedish is spoken and with high unemployment and crime rates.

The public health agency revealed this week that Swedish residents born in Somalia are the community most affected by COVID-19, followed by those born in Iraq, Syria, Finland and Turkey.

“We have to reach these groups more with different types of messages to better protect them,” the agency’s epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, told AFP, stating that he does not know the reasons for this incident.

In Stockholm, the epicenter of the epidemic in Sweden, people of foreign origin represent more than 40% of the 13,000 cases of coronavirus.

Figures released last week by the region’s health authorities show that the city’s poorest neighborhoods – known as “vulnerable areas” – experience a higher increase in coronavirus cases than in other areas.

More than 550,000 people live in one of these 61 areas across the country, according to a 2019 report from the Global Village group.

Immigrants (born abroad or to parents born abroad) represent 24.9% of the national population, but the rate rises to 74% in these “vulnerable areas”.

In Jakobsberg, a poor neighborhood in northwestern Stockholm, a group of seven teenagers begins their informational tour under a spring sun to warn residents of the danger of the coronavirus.

Each of these “young ambassadors” employed by the city council tries to alert passers-by.

“We are trying above all to reach those who do not understand what is happening in the Swedish media,” Mustafa Jasem, 17, told AFP.

The information brochures are available in about 20 languages ​​(Russian, Finnish, Arabic, Tigrinya, Somali …)

According to Sofia Quell, local coordinator in charge of segregation and integration in the city council, these young people allow the authorities to reach certain people.

“It is not just about printing information in different languages, but also finding information channels that people feel comfortable with,” he explains.

In order to communicate, the authorities also use sports clubs and cultural associations.

Informing is the key to the Swedish strategy to combat the coronavirus.

Until now, the Nordic country has adopted a more flexible approach to the epidemic than other Europeans. Health authorities have called for “responsibility”: social distancing, strict application of hygiene rules and isolation in case of symptoms.

The main restrictions have been to ban meetings of more than 50 people and visits to nursing homes.

In late March, the Swedish-Somali doctors order reported that of the first 15 deaths in Stockholm, six were of people of Somali origin.

Jihan Mohamed, a doctor and board member of the association, explained on Swedish public television that the information was not available in Somali at the start of the health crisis, but believes that other factors may have played a role.

Sweden has one of the highest rates of single-person households in Europe (consisting of a single person), but in the Somali community “several generations can live in the same apartment,” he explains.

For Hamid Zafar, a former Afghan-born school principal in Gothenburg, a lack of information is not the main cause of the problem, but rather a lack of understanding by the authorities about these populations with sometimes different social styles.

For some of them, not visiting the elderly is inconceivable, he observes in an article in the Goteborgs-Posten.

But the real “blind spot” of public authorities, he insists, is that some groups have their own social networks, power hierarchies, and authority figures.