Anders Lago, mayor of the Swedish town of Sodertalje, was recently invited to testify before a US Congressional committee on the topic of immigration because his tiny town integrated more immigrants from Iraq than was accomplished by the entire United States. Sweden has an extremely generous policy toward immigrants from Iraq– many of whom are Christians fleeing the oppressive Muslim rulers of Iraq. Lagos told Congress his city of 83,000 has nearly 6,000 Iraqi immigrants and “those Iraqis who choose to come to Sodertalje are almost all Christians.” He admitted there were many success stories but his city also confronted social issues such as housing. It is common, he said, for Iraqis to cluster together in crowded housing in order to remain close to fellow immigrants.
He noted the surprising data that 40% of adult Iraqi refugees have an academic education and another 40% have backgrounds in traditional crafts, but it has been difficult getting them to apply for jobs. Swedish researchers are struggling to understand why refugees with such high education levels remain unemployed for long periods. One hypothesis is the generous Swedish welfare system may well work against quick integration of Iraqi immigrants.
Recent statistics indicate Iraqis are slower to enter the labor market, less prone than other immigrants to learn Swedish and become integrated within Swedish society, more prone to cluster in tight and overcrowded ethnic neighborhoods and too dependent on welfare.