STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Immigrants to Sweden expressed dismay and disappointment on Monday that a party which wants radically to cut immigration and strongly criticizes Muslims and Islam won parliament seats in Sunday’s election.
The entry into parliament of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, who won almost 6 percent of the vote, was a new turn for politics in Sweden, traditionally one of the most open countries in Europe for asylum seekers and refugees.
But it also highlighted a real concern among some voters, which observers say established parties completely failed to address in the run up to the election, about integration and cultural clashes.
“This election is a catastrophe,” said Mohamud Farah, who has made Sweden his home for more than two decades after fleeing war in Somalia. “It’s deplorable, and worrying.”
The Sweden Democrats say they are not racist, but their message is that immigration needs to be severely curtailed and that immigrants should be assimilated rather than integrated.
It handed out leaflets that read “Give Sweden back to us!” and ran an election video in which an elderly pensioner is overtaken by burka-clad women pushing prams in a race to collect welfare checks.
“It’s hard to see how people can vote for this kind of party,” said Mohammed Hersi, who came to pray at the Islamic Cultural Center in a northern Stockholm suburb.
“Of course, I am disappointed. Sweden feels like home to me. This feels like some kind of sign that people don’t want immigrants here anymore.”
The party, which has its roots in neo-Nazi movements of the 1980s and 1990s, has toned down its radical image, opting for a clean-cut look over shaved heads and bomber jackets.
The rise in their popularity mirrors an increase in support for similar parties in other parts of Europe.
A party more radical than the Sweden Democrats, the Swedes’ Party, which wants only what it calls genetically Western people to be Swedish citizens, won one seat on a town council in west-central Sweden.
“They are gaining ground. I don’t mean just in parliament, but I mean out on the street,” said Iraqi Athir, who runs a vegetable stand in a neighborhood in north Stockholm that houses many immigrants.
“Today they have 20 seats, tomorrow maybe 21, and in a few years it could be 30,” said Athir, who voted in his second election in Sweden this year.
“They are climbing, and we have to say stop.”
Relative to its size, Sweden has been among the top five nations in the European Union in taking in refugees and asylum-seekers, including those fleeing the Balkan wars of the 1990s and Iraq after the U.S. invasion.
Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and other established parties have expressed worries about what they call a xenophpic party entering parliament.
At the same time, Reinfeldt said that not all the 300,000 people who voted for the Sweden Democrats were in that category, but rather were making a protest vote against the establishment. He said efforts had to be made to understand such people.
Miguel Benito, Director of Sweden’s Immigrant Institute, said the results were a huge letdown, but that all parties in Sweden were to blame.
“Neither the right nor the left has dealt with the issue of immigration and integration,” Benito said. “They haven’t dared to take on this debate. They won’t admit that there are problems in this society.”
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.