Facts about migration, integration and crime in Sweden

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Simplistic and occasionally inaccurate information about migration, integration and crime in Sweden is sometimes disseminated. Here, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs looks at some common claims.

The government agencies in Sweden that are responsible for collecting data and statistics on matters such as migration, integration and crime are the Swedish Migration Agency, the Swedish public employment service, the Swedish Police Authority and the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå). The information below is therefore largely a presentation of data collected by these agencies and international organisations.

Claim: “There has been a major increase in gun violence in Sweden”

Facts: In 2020, a total of 124 cases of lethal violence were registered in Sweden (equivalent to 1.20 cases per 100 000 inhabitants). This number has fluctuated between 68 and 124 (0.71 – 1.21 per 100 000 inhabitants) since 2002. The overall trend in lethal violence was downward until 2012, with relatively large variations from year to year. Since 2013, the number of cases has increased.

The Swedish Police Authority started to collect data on the number of shootings in Sweden in 2017. That year saw a total of 324 shootings, in which 139 people were injured. In 2020, 366 shootings occurred, in which 117 people were injured.

According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention the number of cases of lethal gun violence was 17 in 2011, while the corresponding figures for 2018, 2019 and 2020 were 43, 45 and 48 respectively. Studies conducted by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention show that lethal gun violence has increased within the context of criminal conflicts, and that the majority of lethal shootings takes place in this context.

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Claim: “There has been a major increase in the number of reported sexual offences in Sweden”

Facts: According to the Swedish Crime Survey, there has been an increase in reported sexual offences over the last years. It is important to note that sexual offences comprise a broad spectrum of offences, from minor incidents to very serious incidents such as rape. According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) the tendency to report primarily minor incidents have increased. Self-reported exposure to serious sexual offenses, on the other hand, has been stable in recent years, and victimization is considerably lower for such crimes than for sexual crimes in general.

The number of rape offences reported to the police has also increased over the last ten years. This can partly be explained by changes in legislation. As the definition of rape in Swedish law has broadened, it is difficult to compare the levels of reported crime over time. It is also difficult to make international comparisons based on crime statistics, as many acts that are considered rape under Swedish law are not considered rape in many other countries. Furthermore, in some countries, if several offences are committed on the same occasion, only the most serious of these will be recorded. In Sweden, in principle every offence committed on a single occasion is recorded.

Example: If a woman in Sweden reports that she has been raped by her husband every night for a year, that is counted as 365 separate offences. In some  countries, this would be registered as one single offence, or it would not be registered as an offence at all.

Willingness to report sexual offences also differs dramatically between countries. A country in which these crimes are talked about openly, and victims are not blamed, will also have more cases reported. Sweden has made a conscious effort to encourage women to report any offence. #MeToo and other movements against sexual crimes and abuse in recent years may have further increased the willingness to report victimisation, both to the police and in surveys. In summary, reported crime does not reflect the actual level of crime in a country, and it is difficult to make international comparisons on crime, as Brå has highlighted in a recent report, see below.

According to Eurostat’s statistics, Sweden has long had the highest number of rapes per capita. According to the statistics, the percentage of rapes cleared in Sweden is also low. A recent study by Brå shows that there are differences in how rape legislation is worded and how statistics are recorded, which means that the figures from different countries are not comparable. If the legal conditions and statistical methods had been the same as in Germany, Sweden would rank somewhere in the middle of the statistics from Eurostat. Nor does Sweden stand out in the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights’s crime victim survey when it comes to the percentage of women who have stated that they have been subjected to sexual violence. In short, there is no support for the claim that Sweden deviates significantly from other countries in north-western Europe when it comes to the incidence of rape.

According to the adjusted statistics, women in Sweden are more exposed to rape than in countries in southern and eastern Europe, such as Spain, Portugal, Poland and Greece. These differences might be due to more rapes actually taking place in Sweden, but it could also be due to greater willingness amongst Swedish women to report incidents to the police and to talk about it in a victim survey.

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Claim: “Immigrants are behind the increase in crime”

Facts: The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) has conducted three studies on the distribution of those registered as suspected offenders across different groups based on native and non-native background. The most recent study was published in 2021. All three studies show that the vast majority of people, regardless of background, are not suspected of any crime. People with non-native backgrounds are, however, suspected of crimes more often than people with native backgrounds.

People born abroad are 2.5 times as likely to be registered as a crime suspect as people born in Sweden to two native-born parents. In relation to this latter group, therefore, the the relative risk of being suspected of crime for people born abroad is 2.5. For those born in Sweden to two non-native parents, the relative risk is 3.2, which means people in this group are slightly more than three times as likely to be registered as a suspected offender as those born in Sweden to two native-born parents. However, the magnitude of this excess risk decreases when differences in age, gender and living conditions are taken into account, from 2.5 to 1.8 and 3.2 to 1.7 respectively.

In a study from 2013, researchers at Stockholm University showed that the main difference in terms of criminal activity between immigrants and others in the population in Sweden was due to differences in the socioeconomic conditions in which they grew up. This means factors such as parents’ incomes and the social conditions in the area in which an individual grew up.

A literature review by Brå in 2019, covering Nordic studies on crime and foreign background 2005-2019, finds similar results - people with foreign background are somewhat overrepresented, and the overrepresentation varies between countries of origin and type of crime. According to Brå factors that lead to segregation – for example low level of education and lack of employment or other occupation – also seem to contribute to a higher level of crime amongst people with foreign background. Factors such as war traumas, mental illness and the level of crime, conflict and economic development in the country of origin might also be factors that contribute to explain some of the differences.

Further reading:

Nordiska studier om Brottslighet bland personer med utländsk och inhemsk bakgrund (Swedish)Brå - The Swedish Crime Survey

Brå - Registered offending among persons of native and non-native background

The British Journal of Criminology: Volume 53, Issue 3, 1 May 2013

Claim: “Swedish authorities are covering up crime statistics”

Facts: No. Swedish government agencies have nothing to gain from covering up statistics and facts. Rather, they seek an open and fact-based dialogue. Sweden is an open society governed by the principle of public access to official documents. This means that members of the public, e.g. private individuals and media representatives, have the right to insight and access to information concerning the activities of central and local government. Official crime statistics are available on Brå’s website. Data is also available there for researchers.

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Claim: “In Sweden there are a number of ‘no-go zones’ where criminality and gangs have taken over and where law enforcement does not dare to go”

Facts: In a report published in June 2017, the Swedish Police Authority identified 61 areas around the country that have become increasingly exposed to crime, social unrest and insecurity. Of these 61 areas, 23 were considered particularly vulnerable. These areas are sometimes mistakenly called ‘no-go zones’. In 2019 the Swedish Police Authority updated the report, identifying 60 such areas, of which 20 is considered being particularly vulnerable.  

The Swedish Police Authority identifies a ‘vulnerable area’ as a geographically defined area, characterised by a low socioeconomic status, in which criminals exert influence on the local community. This influence is linked to the social context of the area rather than reflecting a calculated intention on the part of criminals to take power and control the local community. While the Police Authority has stated that working in these vulnerable areas is often difficult, it is not the case that the police do not go into them or that Swedish law does not apply there.

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Claim: “The high level of asylum seekers means that the system in Sweden is on the verge of collapse”

Facts: Sweden is not on the verge of a collapse. As for most countries, the Swedish economy has been deeply affected by the consequences from the Covid-19 virus. But the Swedish economy is strong. Public finances have recorded a surplus since 2016. Certainly, the deep downturn in economy combined with powerful measures, partly temporary ones, meant that public finances reported a deficit by 2.8 per cent of GDP 2020. Forecasts indicate, however, that the deficit is set to gradually diminish and turn to a surplus until 2023. Sweden is also in a good position to manage the recession, thanks to its low level of public debt. General government gross debt is predicted at 37.8 per cent of GDP 2020. The labour market has also been strongly affected by the economic downturn. However, the participation rate in Sweden is the highest, and the employment rate is one of the highest, in the EU.

In 2015, almost 163 000 people sought asylum in Sweden. The measures subsequently taken by the Swedish Government, including temporary identity checks and border controls, the temporary asylum legislation and restrictions in asylum seekers right to financial support and accommodation, have led to fewer asylum seekers in Sweden. The corresponding figures for asylum seekers in Sweden in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 were 28 939, 25 666, 21 502 and 21 958, respectively. In 2020 the number of asylum seekers decreased significantly to a level of 12 991, mainly due to the COVID-pandemic and travel restrictions. 

Based on the report Sustainable migration policy for the long term (SOU 2020:54) presented by the Cross-party Committee of Inquiry on Migration, amendments to the Swedish Aliens Act entered into force on 20 July 2021.

These amendments include the following:

• as a general rule, residence permits granted to persons in need of protection are temporary at the time of the initial decision with the exception of resettled persons – quota refugees – who are still being granted permanent residence permits;

• permanent residence permits can only be granted when an applicant has had a temporary residence permit for at least three years and only if certain specific requirements are met, including a maintenance requirement; and

• a stricter maintenance requirement for family member immigration applies as a general rule.

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Claim: “Muslims will soon be in the majority in Sweden”

Facts: No. It is estimated that there are a few hundred thousand people in Sweden whose roots are in predominantly Muslim countries. But this figure says nothing about how many are religious or not.

Muslim faith communities have approximately 170 000 members. This is about 1.5 per cent of Sweden’s population. The largest faith communities are the Church of Sweden, the Pentecostal Movement and the Roman Catholic Church. Of Sweden’s ten million inhabitants, 6 million are members of the Church of Sweden.

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Claim: “Sweden has suffered numerous Islamic terror attacks”

Facts: The first case of what could be termed Islamic terrorism in Sweden occurred in 2010, and the only fatality was the perpetrator.

On 7 April 2017, five people were killed and several others injured in an attack in central Stockholm. On 7 June 2018, the Stockholm District Court handed down a sentence against the person who was indicted for that offence. The defendant was found guilty of terrorist offense by murder in five cases, as well as numerous counts of attempted murder. The penalty was set to life imprisonment. The Court also decided to expel the accused from Sweden for life. In addition, the defendant was held liable to pay damages to more than one hundred victims of the attack.

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Claim: “Integration does not work as well in Sweden as in other countries”

Facts: There are many ways to measure integration, one of which is to study the integration of those born abroad into the labour market. In Sweden, 69.7 per cent of people born abroad aged 20–64 are in employment, compared with an EU average of 67.1 per cent. The corresponding figure for people born in Sweden is 85.5 per cent, compared with an EU average of 73.0 per cent (Eurostat, 2017).

The high level of labour market participation among those born in Sweden – which is partly due to a high level of employment among women born in Sweden – is one reason why the differences between native-born and foreign-born workers are bigger than those in other EU Member States. Sweden has also taken in more refugees than many other EU Member States. Relative to the size of its population, Sweden has seen the largest proportion of asylum seekers in recent years. The causes of migration have an impact on how long it takes for migrants to integrate into the labour market. A refugee has a longer path to employment than a migrant worker, for example. The level of education of those who immigrate also plays a role.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is an intergovernmental organisation with 35 member countries, considers that Sweden has a well-developed policy for reception and integration. Nonetheless, the OECD highlights the fact that the shortage of housing postpones integration activities, and that more newly arrived immigrants need access to early intervention during the asylum process. Sweden faces challenges associated with providing activities to help newly arrived women and new arrivals with lower levels of education, in particular, to integrate into working and community life.

Sweden comes out at the top of the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), which compares integration policy in 38 countries. The index consists of 167 indicators in eight policy areas: labour market mobility, education, political participation, family reunion, access to nationality, health, long-term residence and anti-discrimination. Sweden scores particularly highly on labour market aspects and the rights and measures to which migrants have access. The latest MIPEX survey was conducted in 2014.

In the last few years, the Government has implemented reforms and provided additional funds with a view to improving new arrivals’ integration into working and community life. This includes fast tracks into the labour market for new arrivals with experience in shortage occupations, an education and training obligation for new arrivals deemed in need of such measures to find a job, and a new regulatory framework clarifying what is required of the individual. The Government has also provided additional funds to municipalities and county councils to improve and reinforce their preparedness and capacity to receive new arrivals. Under a new act on the reception for settlement of certain newly arrived immigrants, all municipalities are obliged to resettle the new arrivals assigned to them; this aims to ensure that new arrivals can settle more rapidly and begin the process of integration. In addition, a new structure has been introduced for measures during the asylum application process, including skills assessment and increased funding for measures via civil society.

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