Embarrassing! “refugee policy”
Bullshit! and brown statistics
Embarrassing! and ignorant
They bluff and lie until the lie becomes true

Embarrassing! your whole policy is
Bullshit! and brown rhetoric
Embarrassing! if we surrender
When new fascism becomes normalized

(Partiet, Pinsamt)

1980s. I grew up in the 80’s in one of Stockholm’s so-called ‘Million Programme’ areas. My parents bore, and I would say still carry, many traumas from fleeing Iran. However, the flight has been the least difficult. The guilt for having survived and leaving so many friends and family members in the hands of a totalitarian regime is probably most painful. To have been able to build a life in security and peace, become parents, and reunite with some family members and friends, while living with daily news of executions of comrades and a dear older sister, left painful memories that even today cause my parents to burst into tears when they hear testimonies from people who are being tortured in prison. My parents received a permanent residence permit relatively quickly after they arrived in Sweden. It took about six months.

‘Everyone knew about the war between Iran and Iraq, and Khomeini’s persecution of dissidents. There was nothing you needed to prove or anything,’ says my mother.

I have not experienced war, nor has my brother. We were both born in Sweden, and despite the trauma of our parents, I remember my childhood with nostalgia. I think back fondly to wading in winter snow that came up to our knees and the orange sledge that we were pulled in. I remember my first bike rides through all the green areas around Järvafältet in the spring. I recall my kindergarten, which included a mixture of white Swedes and refugee families, and how the kindergarten staff arranged various festivals like Norooz that virtually all the kindergarten children participated in.  Looking in the rearview mirror, solidarity manifests in the very first memories of my childhood years. Solidarity was present in kindergarten and later in our free time, in the various protest demonstrations on Sergels torg and Kungsträdgården and not least through our living room speakers that pumped out tunes by Bob Marley, Violeta Parra and Björn Afzelius.

However, there is a sad thin veil over these pleasant childhood memories – and it consists mainly of my parents’ pain. Most studies show that trauma can travel through generations. These studies say that even those who have never directly experienced trauma can suffer from its consequences. I think the knowledge that many of us had similar family backgrounds, that there were neighbors who wanted us well and a society that – on the whole – allowed us to exist, have meant that today I mostly have happy memories from my childhood.

Several years later, in a reunion with the teachers from our youth recreation center and some old preschool and youth recreation center friends, one of my oldest childhood friends shared a reflection. She had noticed a marked shift in what is considered ‘political’ from the time of our childhood, especially in the school world.

‘When we grew up, it was a time when we sang songs about solidarity and peace, like Last night I dreamed, without it being considered political or problematic.’

She went on to state that it is no longer considered ‘politically correct’ to sing songs about solidarity in school as it is equated with being left-wing. I remember that, on the way home, my friend’s words made me wonder how songs for freedom could be something that need to be sung privately. How is it that these issues have become something that must not be shared with future generations? It is as if our shared humanity and empathy for people around the world should not be something to strive for publicly, but rather it is for everyone to develop individually in private life.

2009. At the end of my studies in Lund, I started working as support staff at a newly opened housing facility for those who had been categorized by Swedish authorities as ‘unaccompanied’ young people. It was a strange time. While political science, which was my major, taught us about international conflicts, different political ideologies and power struggles between states and companies, my job landed me in the center of a national scandal regarding the reception of refugees. The accommodation was the first to open in Vellinge municipality, just outside of Malmö, and before the young people had even moved in, about 50 neighbors had gathered in a rebel-like mob in a venue near the accommodation and demanded that the accommodation close down. Statements about not wanting their children to have to mix with newly-arrived young people were common from those who were in opposition to the opening of the housing. Some also believed that the new arrivals would carry such heavy trauma that they could be a danger to their neighborhood. The young people who were to move in were not welcomed by a large part of the population. The chairman of the then conservative municipal board in Vellinge said, among other things, that the municipality did not have money to finance care and nursing for the approximately 30 young people who were expected to move into the municipality. For many people, this was a strange statement as Vellinge municipality has long been one of the country’s richest municipalities.

2015: “And until that is done [that the EU’s migration policy has been reviewed], there is one thing, a primary thing that Sweden can do to get more EU countries to take their responsibility, and that is to show that we simply do not have the capacity to do more. So, the purpose of the measures we are now presenting is to create a breathing space for Swedish refugee reception. It requires that we sharply reduce the number of people seeking asylum and being granted a residence permit in Sweden – instead, we should make them apply to other countries.” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven (Socialdemocrat)

2021: Previously, the practice had been to grant permanent residence permits for asylum seekers. Following the Government’s proposal to close borders to give “breathing space” in November 2015, temporary residence permits were introduced for asylum seekers. Recently, the Government has suggested that the temporary residence permits will expire this year. At the end of June, the parliament will decide on the new Aliens Act. The Government’s bill proposes that the temporary residence permits and restrictions in family reunification should remain. What was originally proposed as a temporary measure (approximately five years), increasingly seems to be becoming a permanent policy.

On 18 May 2021, the Asylum Commission released a book Legal Security and Solidarity – What Happened?, an anthology on the reception of refugees. In the book, a number of researchers, professionals and civil society actors write about the legal uncertainty that characterizes the work with and application of the Swedish migration legislation. But it also tells stories of hopefulness and how a society of solidarity is still being made and can be made despite increasingly restrictive laws. One of the authors of the anthology is Baharan Kazemi, who recently defended her dissertation in social work. One of the questions asked of her during her viva was whether she considered that the 2015/2016 changes to the Aliens Act could be seen as a shift or whether it was a matter of continuity in Swedish migration policy.

‘It is both, depending on what we are talking about. What I see is that there is a continuity in how the group of unaccompanied children / asylum seekers are Othered with other rights. This difference also existed in the previous laws which described the group in need of specialists and thus as very different from other children. But what is a break from the previous discourse is that they used to say, “They are different – they need more support and help,” and now they say, “They are different – dangerous, expensive and not our responsibility.” If you talk about the right to asylum and access to welfare, then there has clearly been a shift,’ Baharan replied.

‘It is both,’ is the response of an expert who has studied how solidarity and legal (in)security for young migrants has developed in Sweden in recent years. As the conversation about the dissertation continues, I am struck by my childhood memories. What happened to all the songs about freedom and solidarity that were so common in my preschool and school? Several stories in the Asylum Commission’s anthology testify that these songs are still sung. And Baharan’s dissertation is another example of how hope develops, in parallel with the harsher developments of securitization, where civil society and private individuals have increasingly had to take on the role of providing welfare for migrants. The songs are there and are still sung, but no longer as a matter of course in various social institutions. But the songs are sung, after all.

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