The Swedish asylum system—long one of the most efficient and generous in the world—faced an unprecedented challenge in the fall of 2015. As the number of refugees and migrants arriving in Sweden surged, processing times for asylum applications grew and emergency housing reached capacity. Schools struggled to enroll young newcomers, who made up nearly half of asylum applicants in 2015. The pace of arrivals, coupled with existing housing, teacher, and interpreter shortages, brought this robust system to a crisis point.
Swedish policymakers, the report finds, responded to these pressures in two primary ways. First, they introduced measures aimed at reducing future arrivals, including checkpoints at the border with Denmark and, controversially, lowering the level of benefits and rights offered to protection beneficiaries. The second, longer-term response has been to invest heavily in integration.
Drawing on interviews with Swedish policymakers and stakeholders, the author maps the ongoing capacity challenges, responses, and innovations in how Sweden supports the success of asylum seekers and refugees. In many ways, flexibility has proven key. From rapidly expanding temporary housing and health services, to creating fast-track employment programs and opportunities for educators to pool resources, Swedish reception and integration systems are exploring new approaches to service provision in the face of heightened need.
Successful integration depends on more than employment services.
While quick entry into the labor market has been a major focus of Swedish integration investments, other factors play an important role as well. Unstable housing situations, uncertain legal status, or untreated mental health conditions can all make finding and maintaining employment challenging, and ultimately undermine successful integration. Similarly, employment is not the only means of ensuring social inclusion, and other approaches may be more relevant for individuals who remain a long way from entering the labor market.