Facts or Alternative Facts? Trump Attacks Sweden’s Open-Door Immigration Policy

The Alternative Facts

During a rally to supporters in Florida on Sunday 19th February, Donald Trump, as part of a volley of attacks on the asylum policies of Europe, made reference to an ‘incident’ that happened ‘last night in Sweden’. Trump declared that “we’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden.” He didn’t stop there. “Sweden? Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.’’

What did happen that night in Sweden? Swedes were baffled, commentators scratched their heads and Trump supporters either accepted his invention as true, or scrambled to develop an explanation for what he really meant.

Many flocked to the @Sweden Twitter account, and they too were unaware what Trump was alluding to. Responding to a deluge of questions, the account responded, ‘’No. Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not ben [sic] any terrorist attacks here. At all. The main news right now is about Melfest (the competition which selects Sweden’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest).’’

So on the surface, nothing had happened. The incidents that had occurred were summarised by Sweden’s Aftonbladet: police chased a car, the singer Owe Thörnqvist had some technical problems, a man set himself on fire in central Stockholm.

In qualification of what he really meant, Trump declared that what he was referring to was in fact a documentary aired by Fox about Sweden and immigrants. "There was an absolute surge in both gun violence and rape in Sweden once they began this open-door policy," said Ami Horowitz, its director. He declared that there were whole areas that were ‘no-go,’ governed by Sharia Law and that lawmakers in Sweden were covering up and under-reporting crimes. Nigel Farage too, decried Malmo as “the rape capital of Europe due to EU migrant policies.’’

The Actual Facts

So what has been happening in Sweden? What we do know is that there were twice as many asylum applications in 2015 as 2014, 163,000 (the second most per capita in Europe) to 81,000 according to the Swedish Migration Agency as Sweden adopted one of the most open asylum policies in the world.

In terms of the sexual crimes that Horowitz and Farage talked about, they are to a degree accurate in their description of Sweden. It has the highest reported rates of rape in Europe, but according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) sex offences in the same period dropped by 11%. The Swedish authorities attribute this high level to the way that such crimes are reported and it’s important to note Sweden’s incredibly expansive definition of rape, the most expansive in the world. If a husband rapes his wife every day for a year, in many countries this would be counted as one count of rape. In Sweden, it would be 365.

Sweden’s crime figures have in fact fallen since 2005 and this includes the years after the refugee influx. Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister of Sweden pointed out that there were 50% more murders in the county that Trump spoke in than the whole of Sweden. It’s important to note that some crimes have seen a rise, such as murder for example, but the 2015 figure was the same as 2011 and according to Brå "in a long-term perspective, ever since the 1990’s when Brå started the measurements, the trend shows that lethal violence is declining.’’

The number of reported rapes has increased in Sweden in over the past 10 years,  but this still stands lower than what it was in 2011, and thus attributing it to refugees misleading and dangerous.

Sweden has had issues with integration. There exist large inequalities for migrants, and unemployment for foreign-born workers is three times higher than that of Swedes. It has had one of the highest numbers of Isis fighters per capita in Europe, symptomatic of the difficulty some Muslims migrants have found with integration.


Whilst Trump pointed to an ‘incident’ that had patently not occurred, a few days later there were disturbances in an area of Stockholm with a big migrant population and there has been accusations that the authorities have covered up incidences of migrant crimes. Perhaps the scale of Sweden’s acceptance of migration in 2015 was too large, and in 2016 the Swede’s open border policy stopped and the number dropped to 29,000.

The incident is supposed to have been lent greater significance because of the Utopian socialist reputation that Scandinavian nations enjoy, particularly Sweden. Sweden’s propensity to dominate a multitude of country measures, tables and indexes make it a prime target for those on the populist right who seek to admonish their electorates against an open and inclusive refugee policy but it would be equally as  naive for progressives to idealise Sweden as it is for populists to subvert it.

Donald Trump is right to warn of the problems of integration, but he is flagrantly deceitful in the picture he paints of Sweden. Sweden ought to be applauded for their efforts in addressing the refugee crisis, and other countries should do more to share the burden but despite all this, a pertinent fact remains; since the advent of Sweden’s ‘open door’ policy in 2013, Sweden has welcomed over 200,000 refugees. The real headline is that there hasn’t been one terror attack since then.

More about the author

About the author

Hailing from Sheffield, and now based in London, Checan is a politics graduate and freelance writer with a keen interest in equality, social mobility and mental health. Alongside being a columnist for Disclaimer, he also writes and runs partnerships for U-ZINE as well as blogging for the Huffington Post. He spends most of his time drinking tea and waxing lyrical about the world and society.

Follow Checan on Twitter.

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