Refugee policy and attitudes - Sweden, Denmark

Sweden has historically accepted immigrants, and a large part of Swedish society is of foreign origin. On the other hand, Denmark is less accepting of refugees, and the public discourse on the topic is more damaging. When refugees came to Europe in 2015, policies in both countries changed.⁣

Although known for its open attitude, the Swedish government decided to toughen policies by introducing a temporary residence instead of a permanent one and tightening border controls. The Prime Minister of Sweden underlined that such decisions were necessary to minimise the gap between refugee policies in Sweden and other European countries. Due to more "friendly" policies, many refugees preferred to settle in Sweden than in other countries, which was more than what the Swedish welfare system could handle. Still, the refugees accepted in Sweden are entitled to free healthcare services and financial support until they receive a residence permit and can apply for a work permit as an asylum seeker. Even though people's attitudes towards refugees have gotten worse right after the so-called "refugee crisis," with the percentage of respondents agreeing with the statement that foreigners should have the same social rights as Swedes dropping by over 20 percentage points, we observe a positive trend which slowly rebuilds the open approach towards immigrants.⁣

The Danish government decided to toughen the restrictions since 2015 using similar narratives to Sweden's. A new conservative government continued that practice by lowering social benefits, introducing more requirements for permanent residency, and making border controls even stricter - for example, the "jewellery law," which allowed border officers to confiscate valuable items from refugees. All of that was done to protect the "social cohesion of Danish society."⁣

The situation worsened in 2021, with the PM Mette Frederiksen expressing her desire for Denmark to be a "zero-asylum country" and effectively accepting only 395 refugees that year. The global refugee organizations have also criticized Denmark for recognising parts of Syria as "safe" and therefore stripping a group of refugees of protection in their country. The negative image of refugees promoted by the government has a strong position in the mentality of Danish society as nearly ¾ of respondents believe the progress of integration is far worse than it is based on research. However, most Danes, including the ruling party's supporters, do not agree with the government's strict refugee policies.⁣

The two countries have presented contrasting approaches toward refugees, and the events of 2015 have influenced the policy changes in both. However, this case also shows how in a society with positive attitudes to migrants, such as Sweden, the impact was more temporary, whereas on the ground of negative attitudes, like in Denmark, it allowed policymakers to only go further in their restrictions.⁣

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