Swedish strategy overlooked migrants’ way of life during pandemic

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Komalsingh Rambaree is the vice president of International Consortium for Social Development (ICSD) and serves as a member of the board of the International Council on Social Welfare, ICSW-Sverige. Last spring, ICSD decided to study how different countries handled the pandemic.

Komalsingh Rambaree points out that we need to understand that in a catastrophe like the pandemic, migrants and recent arrivals are always vulnerable and that is true in all countries.

“After the great immigration in 2015, Swedish authorities should have known that this is a vulnerable group, and their strategy should have included mechanisms intended to protect them.”

The authorities lacked preparation

If we are aware that a pandemic is coming, vulnerable groups need to be identified, but the authorities had no such plan. It is not only about conveying information, but also about understanding the information, Komalsingh Rambaree claims. We need to make sure that people understand the information conveyed.

The authorities might say that we must all “keep our distance.” However, the question is what that information means exactly, when it comes to maintaining a safe distance at the shops and then returning home to one’s big family.

“Many migrants have a way of life which involves living in extended families, and this was not taken into account in the Swedish strategy. It looks as if those responsible for the Swedish strategy at the beginning of the pandemic overlooked this aspect entirely.”

“We had to shout”

The authorities did not try to ensure that marginalised groups were given crucial information.”

Nessica Nässén, Lecturer in Social Work, University of Gävle

At the very start of the pandemic, information from the Public Health Agency of Sweden was not translated. Instead, grass root organisations took a step forward and started to translate, she claims. Local associations, small groups and the local community also made their voices heard to make the situation known.strategy

Soon, information about how COVID-19 had hit different areas in the Stockholm region became known. It became clear that many of the deceased, as well as those who were overrepresented in hospitals in the Stockholm region, were originally from other countries and were inhabitants in socio-economically marginalised geographic areas.

“Not until that moment did the authorities realise that they had failed to protect this group.”

The Swedish strategy became reactive

By then, it was too late. These people worked in the care for the elderly and in the hospitals, drove minivans and taxis. To Nessica, the Swedish strategy is only reactive, as it is continually adapted in small steps.

“Everything took too long, for example finding protective equipment for staff involved in the care of the elderly. Moreover, it is not until now that we tell pupils with family member who are ill to stay home from school. Many people in marginalised groups had very insecure employments, so they had to go to work. They did their duty but were let down. They were left to fend for themselves, and the authorities didn’t even think about them.”

A strategy for a homogenous population

“The Swedish strategy built on trust to a large extent, and it failed to take into account that all immigrants did not share the same tradition at all,” Nessica Nässén says. “They based a whole strategy on the idea that everyone was Swedish and had lived in Sweden for generations. It was a strategy for a homogenous population.”

Nessica Nässén argues that many people of the middle class were very protected and they had trust, because they could work from home and had a good home in which they could take care of their children when those could not attend school or pre-school.

“People who are not part of this homogenous group have had to raise their voices and say, ‘This doesn’t work,'” Nessica Nässén says.

“We will manage to do this, because we have a history of managing”

“Many politicians and a large part of the Swedish population cherish a belief that used to be true, but which isn’t any longer,” Komalsingh Rambaree explains. “In this belief, Sweden is a country a whole world looks up to. But Sweden in not the same country as it used to be in the 1970s and 1980s. Sweden has cut down on its welfare budget, while other countries have increased theirs. Many European countries today have a better health care than Sweden.

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