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A Rural Approach: Inclusion of refugees and migrants in Sweden

This case study is part of our Beyond Crisis Collection: Innovative Approaches to the Integration of Migrants.

Sweden is the first destination for relocated asylum seekers, and this is not by chance. Leading the most generous immigration policy in Europe since years, Sweden was the first Member State to grant in 2013 a resident permit to all Syrian refugees. Today, 15% of the population living in Sweden is not born there[1]. Proportionally to its population (9,6 million inhabitants), this country receives more asylum requests than any other EU Member State (81 000 in 2014)[2].

This country therefore has a long experience of integrating migrants, and its results are often highlighted internationally: “The academic performance of Sweden’s immigrant children is impressive.” (OECD Better Life Index)

The State provides shelter to refugees upon their arrival, before they are guided by the administration to reception centres throughout the country, predominantly rural with a low population density. To reach its objectives of reinforcing competitiveness, encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting knowledge and innovation in rural areas, while achieving positive effects on environment, the Swedish rural development policy bets on people from foreign extraction inclusion, supported by European programmes.

Rural areas are losing population and Swedes of foreign extraction are severely under-represented in the agricultural and forestry sector and in local rural development projects. Therefore, the Swedish Rural Network has put a high priority on activities to facilitate the inclusion of refugees and immigrants, setting up a working group on that issue already during the last programming period 2007-2013. This citizen-led “Integration” initiative focuses on improving the way local administration and businesses perceive foreign population, while increasing the knowledge of the migrants on rural development programmes and facilities in order allow their direct participation to them.

Among the various projects implemented (Eco Trails, Green Future…), « Open Borders » results from a collaboration between the National Land Survey, Borlänge municipality and an employment agency. 900 km borders between properties needed forest clearing. The majority of the participants were Somalian, and after being trained and employed for the operation, most of them have moved on to new positions. Other initiatives, such as radio programmes in Arabic and Somalian about life and work opportunities in rural areas, were launched as well as seminars, which are responding to the need for meeting places and networking.

Awareness raising and information publications are also disseminated including a “checklist” demonstrating the advantages of actively working for integration to organisations; a flyer to help searching for support for integration projects; and a “successful match” study on 9 social inclusion projects (training and work creation).

For the 2014-2020 period, this group will receive additional resources to intensify its action. Their 2015-2016 action plan focuses on mapping and disseminating good examples and identifying areas with potential; developing training, language and employment activities as well as supporting business creation by migrants, reinforcing the previous programme. They will also experiment a model of inventory for housing in rural areas.

The network started cooperation and mutual exchange with other countries and regions and is willing to continue. A series of activities recently launched were presented at the 14th Summer EurAcademy in last September on the theme “Rural NGOs: Catalysts of Social Cohesion and Sustainable Development.” One of these is the collection of best practices regarding citizen-led initiatives on social inclusion of migrants at village and local level.

Facing the European current context of rapid change, the Rural Swedish Network, based on its long standing practice and its tradition of receiving migrants, consolidate its actions and experiment new ones in order to bring long term solutions and to maintain the cohesion of the multicultural Swedish society.

More info on:  Swedish Rural Network and AEIDL

[1] OCDE

[2] Eurostat

Read more from the Beyond Crisis: Innovative Approaches to the Migrant Integration collection here.