Last Updated: Friday, 08 December 2017, 11:58 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Sweden

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date September 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Sweden, September 2009, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
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.


Sweden occupies about two-thirds of the Scandinavian peninsula. It shares a border with Norway in the west, Finland in the north- east, and Denmark in the south-west.


Sweden has been a constitutional monarchy since 1809. Norway, its western neighbour, was united with Sweden until it became independent in 1905. When still a predominantly agricultural country in the nineteenth century, Sweden experienced massive emigration; one-fifth of its population left, mainly to find arable land and work in the USA.

Sweden's long tradition of abstention from wars and military alliances, its almost unbroken period of government by the Social Democratic Labour Party between 1932 and 1976, and its apparently successful combination of industrial capitalism with a strong welfare state made it for many years a European model of social and political stability. In the 1990s, however, economic problems led to cutbacks in welfare services, and, for the first time since the 1930s, there was large-scale unemployment.

Except for Nordic citizens and family reunion, worker immigration was regulated in 1967 and stopped in 1972. After 1970, Sweden began to receive refugees from, first, Latin America and, later, the Middle East and former Yugoslavia. More than 50 per cent of the immigrant population are naturalized Swedes.


Main languages: Swedish, Finnish

Main religions: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden (87%), Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist

Minority groups include Finns 450,000 (5%), Roma 35,000?40,000, Jews 25,000 and Sami 15,000?20,000 and other ethnic groups such as former Yugoslavs, Iranians, Kurds, Roma, Turks.[1]

Finnish-speakers have lived in the north of Sweden since before the Swedish state existed. There are also large numbers of more recent Finnish immigrants to Sweden.

Sami are indigenous to Scandinavia. There is a far larger population in Norway, and they are also found in Finland and Russia.

Sweden recruited foreign workers from 1947 onwards to work in the expanding industrial sector. Migrant workers came mainly from Finland, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and, particularly following the 1967 coup, Greece.


Sweden recognizes five national minorities - the Sami, the Swedish Finns, the Tornedalers, the Roma and the Jews. Because of their historic presence on Swedish territory, each of these groups is considered to be a part of Sweden's cultural heritage. Minority policy is shaped by the 1998 National Minorities in Sweden Government Act, by the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Sweden ratified both the European treaties in 2000. Official minority languages are Sami, Finnish, Meänkieli (Tornedal Finnish) Romany Chib and Yiddish. Special laws have been adopted which entitle individuals to use Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli in dealings with administrative authorities and courts of law in the geographical areas (administrative areas) in which these languages have traditionally been used and are still widely used today. Children of minority groups in Sweden have a right to teaching in their mother tongue; Finns of Tornedalen, Sami and Roma/Gypsies have special rights in this respect.

In addition to its national minorities, the Swedish Constitution also makes provision for the promotion of opportunities 'for ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities to preserve and develop a cultural and social life of their own'; and it states that 'a foreigner within the Realm shall be equated with a Swedish citizen in respect of protection against discrimination on grounds of race, skin colour, ethnic origin, or sex'. The everyday racism and xenophobia experienced by members of new minorities are a matter of serious concern. In 2003, the Centre against Racism was established with the aid of government funds. It is a non-profit organization created through a broad association of many different organizations. Its activities include efforts to combat racism, xenophobia including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Ziganism (hatred of Roma), and homophobia and discrimination. That same year, the Swedish government adopted new legislation providing greater protection against discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation and functional disability. An Ombudsman Against Ethnic Discrimination was created to prevent discrimination and monitor compliance with the new regulations.

The unemployment rate among Sweden's new minorities is well above the national average; and despite having a higher-than-average degree of education, non-nationals work disproportionately in monotonous and physically strenuous jobs and for low earnings. In the education and labour market sectors a range of different measures are being taken to increase employment among immigrants, including improved introduction programmes for newly arrived immigrants, more effective Swedish language training, bridging courses, validation of foreign qualifications and labour market policy measures.

In previous years, Sweden's refusal to recognize Sami legal and resource rights has made Sami culture and identity vulnerable. Legislation limiting traditional hunting and fishing rights has caused huge protests. Swedish Sami resorted to legal action to defend themselves and their rights, taking cases to the UN Human Rights Commission and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the national courts. In 2002, a Boundaries Delimitation Committee was appointed by the Swedish government to identify those areas that the Sami could use for reindeer grazing. The committee's remit was to identify both the areas exclusively used by the Sami and also those areas not exclusively used by the Sami but which they nevertheless have historically had access to for their subsistence and traditional activities. In addition to the Boundaries Delimitation Committee, the Swedish government also appointed a Special Investigator to examine the possibility of extending the Finnish administrative district. It later decided that the investigator, Paavo Vallius, should also clarify the grounds for and extent of Sami villagers' and landowners' hunting and fishing rights. It is hoped that these investigations will give rise to new legislation resolving many of the outstanding issues related to Sami lands and their resources.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Amnesty International
Tel: +46 8 729 0200

Centre for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations
Tel: +46 8 16 22 64/+46 8 16 26 89

Life and Peace Institute
Tel: +46 (0)18 169500

Office of the Ombudsman Against Ethnic Discrimination in Sweden.
Tel: +46 8 508 887 00

Raoul Wallenberg Institute
Tel: +46 46 107000

Swedish Helsinki Committee
Tel: +46 8 791 8445


Sverigefinska Riksförbundet Ruotsinsuomalainen Keskusliitto/Swedish Association of Finnish-speakers
Tel: +46 8 615 8343

The Swedish Tornedalers Organization/Svenska Tornedalingars Riksförbund - Tornionlaaksolaiset
Tel: 0927 24074

The Organization of Swedish Finns/Finlandssvenskarnas
Tel: +46 8 7020110


Swedish Sameting/Sami Assembly
Tel: +46 980 82702

Samiskt Information Centre
Tel: +46 63 15 08 74
Website (in English): http:">">http:

Svenska Samernas Riksförbund (Swedish Reindeer Husbandry Society)

Saami Council
Tel: +358 (0) 16 677 351

Sami Schoolboard Sweden
Tel: +46 971 442 00

Taiga Rescue Network
[International network of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and individuals working to defend the world's boreal forests]
Tel: +46 971 17039

Sources and further reading


Alund, A. and Schierup, C-U., Paradoxes of Multiculturalism: Essays on Swedish Society, Aldershot, Avebury, 1991.

Beach, H., The Sami of Lapland, London, MRG, 1988.

Beach, H., 'The Sami of Lapland', in MRG (ed.), Polar Peoples: Self-Determination and Development, London, MRG, 1994.

Tagil, S. (ed.), Ethnicity and Nation Building in the Nordic World, London, Hurst, 1995.


Sami Parliament, 'The Sami: an indigenous people in Sweden', retrieved 9 January 2007,

Euromosaic Language Database, 'Sami in Sweden', retrieved 9 January 2007,

Svonni, M., 'Sami language in education in Sweden', 2001, Mercator-Education, retrieved 9 January 2007, regional_dossier_sami_in_sweden.htm

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