Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Sweden

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 1 July 2010
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2010 - Sweden, 1 July 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c33310646.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

In the second half of 2009, Sweden held the Presidency of the EU. The Swedish Presidency was open to working with NGOs in the negotiations on the draft EU Equal Treatment Directive but could not achieve its adoption before the end of its Presidency. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other human rights organizations working on protecting the rights of asylum-seekers and migrants called on the Swedish government to reassert the importance of a rights-based approach to migration and border controls within the framework of the 'Stockholm Programme', which was adopted during the Presidency and sets out key priority areas for the EU in the area of justice and home affairs. A key achievement during the Swedish Presidency was the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the establishment of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights as a legally binding document.

Domestically, an important milestone in the protection of minorities was the adoption of the new Discrimination Act by the Swedish Parliament, which entered into force on 1 January 2009. The Act outlaws discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and age. It also established a new watchdog, the Equality Ombudsman, which is headed by Katri Linna, the former Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination. The reform streamlines the ombudsman function and gathers four of the previous ombudsman posts into one authority.

According to national population statistics, up to the first quarter of 2009, the largest group who immigrated to Sweden were returning Swedish citizens (3,857), followed by Iraqis (2,451) and Somalis (1,305), who are the largest African community in Sweden (about 25,159 people). According to a 2005 report submitted to the OSCE by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Sweden has the largest number of Roma in the Nordic countries with about 50,000 Roma living there. There are numerous religious communities in the country; their numbers are estimated on the basis of statistics submitted by religious organizations as the government does not register the religion of citizens. Approximately 5 per cent (450,000-500,000) of the population is Muslim; the Jewish community estimates that among Sweden's 20,000 Jewish people there are 8,000 practising members. As stated by USCIRF 2009, religious education covering all major world religions is compulsory in public schools and a government authority was established in 2003 to promote the protection of human rights and the values of tolerance and democracy.

Religious and ethnic discrimination continues to be a concern, however. Swedish members of ENAR reported that individuals originally from Middle East and Africa are subject to greater levels of racism and discrimination. Roma also face widespread discrimination.

In August 2009, MRG raised concerns about the practice of Swedish authorities of forcing Roma to return to Kosovo, where they face discrimination and other violations of their human rights. MRG warned that:

'Sweden should ensure that before it returns Kosovo Roma, circumstances are created which allow them to live in dignity and without discrimination ... most are placed on planes without any aid and dropped at the airport in Kosovo without any support in terms of housing, employment or health care.'

AI also criticized Sweden for the treatment of asylum-seekers from Iraq. In its 2009 country report, AI cited the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), which raised serious concerns about the practice of Swedish authorities of keeping asylum-seekers in detention before deportation without any time-limits set by law. According to the report, most new applications for asylum were rejected by the Migration Board on the grounds that there was no internal armed conflict in Iraq. In February 2008, an agreement was reached by Sweden and Iraq, whereby rejected asylum-seekers could be forcibly returned to Iraq. Prior to this, only Iraqi nationals who agreed to be returned were accepted by the Iraqi authorities. Those returned go back to an uncertain future. MRG's 2009 report on Iraq's uprooted minorities cited an August 2009 Swedish Radio News investigation which revealed that Iraqi Christians whose asylum applications had been rejected by the Swedish government and who have been forcibly or voluntarily returned to Baghdad, are once more fleeing the country. Out of 25 interviewed for the programme, including seven children, 'all but one are now on the run again from widespread persecution in Iraq'.

Despite the establishment of a hate crime unit by the Stockholm County police to train police officers to detect and inform the public of hate crimes, and its subsequent expanded role to cover the whole country in 2009, racism within the police caused a major uproar in Sweden. Police officers were caught on video using racist insults during a riot in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in Malmo and some 50 officials adopted racist names while role-playing criminals and suspects during a training exercise. The police chief subsequently promised an independent inquiry into racism within the police.

Meanwhile the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrats openly argues against Muslims in the country, saying that 'Islam is Sweden's biggest threat' since the Second World War. Jurists believe that the text, which appeared in the opinion section of the Aftonbladet newspaper in October 2009, qualifies as hate speech and agitation against an ethnic group. But Chancellor of Justice Göran Lambertz said he was not considering launching an investigation into whether the article violates Swedish rules governing freedom of expression. The party, founded in 1988, argues that Sweden should remain a homogeneous society by drastically cutting the numbers of immigrants. It has recently made gains in local elections and there are fears that it may win a seat in the national parliament in the 2010 national elections.

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