David Frum

05.27.13

The Riots in Stockholm

Immigration is always a very difficult social stress to manage. We don't make it any easier when we refuse to acknowledge those stresses. Many American commentators speak of last week's rioting in the Stockholm suburbs as some inexplicable social mystery. Yet a look at the numbers suggests that tensions between immigrants and natives should be about as surprising as snow in a Swedish winter:

Firemen extinguish burning cars in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby after youths rioted in several different suburbs around Stockholm, Sweden for a fourth consecutive night on May 23, 2013. (FREDRIK SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images) ()

* In 2012, Sweden accepted 44,000 asylum seekers, making Sweden relative to its size the world's most open destination for refugees.

* The 2012 asylum level represented a 50% jump over the rate of asylum acceptance just the year before.

* In less than a single decade, the foreign-born share of the Swedish population has risen from under 10% to over 15%.

* Unemployment among immigrants exceeds 16%; among native Swedes, it is only 6%.

* Despite a heavily redistributionist tax system and a generous welfare state, the wealth gap between natives and immigrants is wide and apparently widening.

* Sweden's asylum seekers come almost entirely from very poor Muslim-majority countries, notably Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Syria.

* Swedish authorities are notoriously tight-lipped about the connection between immigration and crime. Sweden does not report data on crimes by foreign-born people, only by foreign passport holders - meaning that an immigrant who has been naturalized will be counted as a Swede for statistical purposes. Even on that restrictive basis, it's apparent there is a real problem. In 2010, almost 30% of the people in Swedish prisons held foreign passports. A broader study of crime statistics from 1997-2001 - that is, well before the recent immigration surge - found that immigrants and children of immigrants together committed more than 40% of all Swedish crime. In particular, immigrants and children of immigrants were five times more likely than native Swedes to be investigated for sex crimes, a rising Swedish concern. 

* Sweden has a center-right government with a strong libertarian flavor. Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt, whose office since 2006 has enthusiastically welcomed the asylum influx during his administration: "We are more open than other countries. Long term, as a society, we win on this. It will lead to more people getting jobs. It will contribute to a more exciting and open society.”