As millions of Ukrainians left their home country after Russia’s aggression and many more are still fleeing war, Stockholm is doing its best to welcome refugees and find them a place to live, job training and digital upscaling while partnering with other cities to share knowledge and exchange experiences.
The challenges are many, but also through partnerships with other cities, Stockholm is prepared.
Expectation and reality
According to Annika Rosbring, Project Manager of the International Labour Market Department at the City of Stockholm, “1,582 migrants are set to be welcomed this year by the city, but so far the city received a few hundred.”
“Expectations were really high, but it hasn’t been as high pressure as anticipated. We have a good preparation and organisation and especially the schools have prepared to receive many children,” she adds, noting that 903 Ukrainian children are now in Stockholm and 509 of them are in the school system already.
The city is ready, but the refugee system in the country depends on the Migration Board to spread refugees all over the country.
It’s the responsibility of the Migration Board to welcome new arrivals and once they get their permanent permit the responsibility then turns to the job centres, both managed at a national level.
The Housing Problem
Shoresh Ibrahim, Funds Officer at the City of Stockholm, explains that, in Sweden, “we have very independent municipalities, they have their own budget, and they are responsible not for reception and arrival, but housing, schooling for children, among other responsibilities.”
“The Migration Board finds common houses and then municipalities have the responsibility to find better-suited houses, to find people in the city willing to rent places for refugees,” explains Anna Almén-Bergström, Project Manager of the Welcome House Project in the City of Stockholm.
Ibrahim adds that about 10-12 years ago things were different: Municipalities were responsible for the whole process. Usually, now, municipalities are not fully responsible for migrants in their first two years in the country, but only after they get their permit to stay.
But with the Ukrainian crisis things have changed once again as they get a special 90-day permit and “they can automatically stay in the country, which is different from other refugees,” adds Ibrahim.
Also part of the process, Rosbring explains that “once you get your permit, you must go through a two-year programme with Swedish classes. Ukrainians don’t get to take these classes.”
As with other cities, housing is a problem. Prices are going up due to an increase in demand and the number of houses available is often not enough to accommodate everyone.
“It has been a huge issue in Stockholm and the whole of Sweden. Every municipality has to welcome a certain number of refugees. It’s hard to find a house in the city even for locals, so a sustainable housing system is difficult to achieve,” explains Ibrahim.
Learning from others
Since housing and the whole process of welcoming refugees is a challenge to any city, no matter how big they are, Stockholm has partnered with other cities and has exchanged experience within the framework of the EU-funded CONNECTION project to improve their own migration system as well as to help other cities improve theirs.
“We’ve been to Dortmund, and they’ve been here, we went to Athens, a different context, but very interesting to learn about what they are doing there,” says Almén-Bergström, adding that “It’s easy to compare [our situation] with Dortmund, but Athens organises everything in a different way. We have been working on a how-to guide with the perspective of different cities and I was surprised in Athens.”
Sweden has had different migration waves since the 1970s, says Almén-Bergström, noting that “we usually find people who have been here a long time and can speak with the new refugees in their own languages, but in Athens, they didn’t have enough translators.”
“We have migrants and refugees integrated for so many years and we found that Athens was struggling. We have social workers, and job-matchers in several languages that can talk to newly arrived refugees in their own language,” she added.
To build a guide for other cities, Stockholm has partnered with Cluj, Sofia, and Athens to focus on strategies for integration, learning environment context and empowerment. One way that cities can make integration more efficient for themselves and those arriving in them is through ‘one-stop-shops,’ single locations where all of the services and information that newcomers need is available.
For migrants, this reduces the risk of confusion and errors while traipsing all around the city to different bureaus; for the city, it improves the communication and coordination between migration-relavent bodies, as well as their efficacy. Stockholm and Cluj will share their experience in one-stop-shops at this year’s Integrating Cities Conference in Utrecht, and all migration-interested parties are welcome to join (you can register here).
Almén-Bergström explains that “we have suburbs, no-go areas and how can we generate the self-empowerment of people, how to change this reality and stop making the same mistakes all over Europe. How to get the trust of society and connect people. We have similar challenges all over Europe. Everybody wants to belong, to give, integrate, but it’s hard to actually make it happen.”
Through CONNECTION and other European-funded initiatives led by Eurocities such as UNITES, cities can keep exchanging experiences and improving their capabilities to better welcome, accommodate and integrate refugees.
Eurocities has already published an article on Dortmund’s experience managing migration as well as what the city has learned from Athens through CONNECTION.