With Sweden approaching national elections slated for September, migration policy is shaping up to be a core campaign issue for parties across the political spectrum.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Linda Snecker, a spokesperson for the Left Party, explained that the increasing focus on migration “is really changing the political landscape” in Sweden.
According to a recent YouGov opinion poll commissioned by the Swedish-language Metro news outlet, the centre-left Social Democrats and the far-right Sweden Democrats are tied at 23 percent.
Another poll, published by the daily Dagens Nyheter, put the Sweden Democrats at 20 percent, with the Social Democrats at 24 percent and the centre-right Sweden Moderates at 23 percent.
While 27,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden in 2017, Immigration Minister Helene Fritzon of the Social Democrats recently said in a press conference that the country should only grant asylum to between 14,000 and 15,000 applicants each year.
In 2015, upwards of 160,000 people applied for asylum in Sweden, according to government statistics.
Fritzon claimed that, despite a significant drop in refugee arrivals since the migration crisis erupted three years ago, the number of people entering the country remains “significantly higher than [what it should be given] our population share in Europe”.
Her comments come at a time when Swedish Democrats are ramping up anti-migrant rhetoric, according to analysts and political opponents.
“We can really see that the Social Democrats are doing the same thing that is happening all across Europe: Moving from immigration friendly politics to the right-wing,” Snecker said, arguing that putting a spotlight on refugees and migrants “emboldens” the far right.
“Having 27,000 people come Sweden is not a problem at all … migration hasn’t been the struggle or challenge for society that Sweden Democrats [and other parties] want to show it has been.”
The current government is a coalition of the Social Democrats and the Green Party that enjoys the parliamentary support of the Left Party.
The centre-right Moderates Party, which is currently the largest opposition party, has stated its willingness to negotiate a deal on migration with the Sweden Democrats.
Founded in 1988, the Sweden Democrats first entered the Riksdag, the country’s main decision-making body, in 2010.
Several of its members have been accused of fascist sympathies and ties to white supremacist movements.
As a result of the 2014 elections, the Sweden Democrats secured 49 seats in the Riksdag.
Critics worry that it could gain enough votes in the upcoming elections to be part of a governing coalition for the first time.
‘Migrants at centre of everything’
On its website, Sweden Democrats claim the party does not oppose immigration.
The party’s platform argues that immigration “must be kept at such a level … that it does not pose a threat to our national identity or to the welfare and security of our country”.
In the past, the Sweden Democrats have been embroiled in controversies over its members’ anti-Semitic, racist, homophobic and anti-Roma rhetoric.
Experts say the party shares an ideological space with openly white supremacist and white nationalist groups in Sweden.
Expo, a Stockholm-based hate watchdog, documented 3,660 instances of neo-Nazi activity in 2017, compared to 3,064 the year before.
While a majority of incidents were attributed to the national socialist Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), several other white supremacist groups were active as well.
Jonathan Leman, a researcher at Expo, explained that there is an overlap between the anti-migrant rhetoric of the Sweden Democrats and white nationalist and white supremacist websites and organisations.
“It’s common that many members of Sweden Democrats share, spread and sympathise with various news and propaganda sites connected to white nationalism,” Leman told Al Jazeera by telephone.
“They both place immigration and minorities at the centre of everything that’s ‘wrong’ with society,” he said, “and people who don’t agree with them are hostile to Sweden or traitors to Sweden.”
The Left Party’s Snecker added: “Sweden is a social democratic country, and that is changing right now.”
She concluded: “The tone of the debate is very harsh right now, and it doesn’t just impact immigrants; it’s also affecting women’s rights, children’s rights [and] LGBTQI communities.”