Norway minister sparks war of words with Sweden over immigration

Norway minister sparks war of words with Sweden over immigration

Meeting cancelled after Sylvi Listhaug claims there are 60 police ‘no-go zones’ in Sweden

Norway minister sparks war
Firefighters extinguish burning cars after rioting in Rinkeby, Stockholm © Reuters

(FT) –An outspoken Norwegian minister has sparked a sharp war of words with Sweden over immigration in an unusually public spat between the Nordic neighbours.

Sylvi Listhaug, the immigration minister from the populist Progress party, has warned for months that Norway should not copy its neighbour and allow “Swedish conditions” to develop.

That is code for the gang warfare, shootings, car burnings and other integration problems that Sweden has endured recently in the suburbs of its three largest cities, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo.

But Ms Listhaug poured fuel on a simmering fire by travelling to Stockholm on Tuesday — less than two weeks before Norway votes in parliamentary elections — to visit one of the most violent suburbs, Rinkeby, in what she described as a “learning trip”.

Sweden’s own immigration minister cancelled a meeting with Ms Listhaug after her Norwegian counterpart alleged there were 60 “no-go zones” in Sweden. Swedish police insist there is nowhere they cannot go but admit there are problems with gangs of young men. Police in Malmo told the Financial Times that most of the troublemakers were born in Sweden rather than recently arrived immigrants.

“It is complete nonsense,” Helene Fritzon, Sweden’s centre-left immigration minister, said of the no-go zone claim. Ms Fritzon said she would happily meet Norwegian ministers after the elections “but I don’t want to be part of the campaign”.

Carl Bildt, the former centre-right Swedish prime minister, also hit back, saying on Wednesday that Ms Listhaug had not made the visit to learn anything but rather to boost her election campaign. “Sweden is a well-functioning society and we are making progress in our immigration policy. There are areas where there are problems, and that is what you always see in a transitional period,” he added.

The visit dominated headlines in both countries for a second day on Wednesday and underlines the harsh anti-immigration rhetoric the Progress party is using to sway voters. Ms Listhaug has threatened to override human rights conventions to lock up rejected asylum seekers before being sent home.

Sweden’s status as one of the most welcoming nations in Europe for asylum seekers is viewed with wariness by its neighbours — and not just Norway. “The Swedes are naive. They just opened the doors and thought everything would be OK,” a senior Danish politician told the Financial Times last year.

Sweden has undoubted problems in integrating the 163,000 asylum seekers it received in 2015 alone. Employment rates in areas with the biggest presence of foreign-born residents are much lower than the national average. Swedish newspapers have reported recently on hospital staff being harassed by gang members while there are almost daily incidents of shootings and burning cars in the three big cities.

A former Swedish diplomat said: “I think it’s outrageous that she tries to score election points against a neighbour. But, in a way, she does have a point. There is too much violence in some parts of Sweden and we don’t seem to be able to get control of it.”

Kai Eide, Norway’s former ambassador to Sweden, wrote on Facebook: “Nobody can doubt that [Ms Listhaug’s] visit will sour relations with our neighbouring country . . . It’s about raising the temperature in the Norwegian debate. We are going to hear a lot of demagogy in the coming days about ‘Swedish conditions’.”