Dichotomies of Utility : Experiences of Refugee Reception and Demographic Challenges in Rural Sweden
Abstract: In the years immediately following the so-called “refugee crisis”, Swedish municipalities that had received many refugees improved their financial position in a quite remarkable way. Overall, 2016 might have been the best financial year ever for the municipal sector. In sharp contrast to this, 2019 saw an estimated third of all municipalities run deficits. In the public debate, this has generally been explained as a result of refugee reception and integration, which are seen as major cost factors draining the municipalities of funds. Other issues which have seen less prominence in the public debate include ongoing demographic challenges stemming from birth deficits, emigration and the continued ageing of the population. These are particularly sensitive areas in the case of smaller, rural municipalities, which generally have smaller populations than the major towns and cities. The purpose of this thesis is thus to examine how municipalities within this category have experienced refugee reception and the integration process during and in the aftermath of the refugee crisis. This has been achieved through a qualitative approach centred around thematic and qualitative content analysis frameworks. Theoretical concepts based around citizenship, integration, welfare studies and macroeconomics have been consulted. The macroeconomic framework employed stems from the heterodox school of economics, primarily centred around the school of thought known as Modern Monetary Theory. The empirical material consists of various documents published by the central government, government agencies and municipalities in order to frame what has turned out to be a contradictory and conflict-ridden account of refugee reception. During the crisis, an overwhelming majority of the Swedish municipalities saw unprecedented economic growth as a result of government spending, which has since stagnated as a result of the central government returning to its pre-crisis fiscal policy framework. In 2015, the Swedish central government turned from a relatively open asylum policy towards a very restrictive one, a shift primarily motivated with reference to financial concerns. However, this turn resulted in decreased opportunities for rural municipalities to benefit from increased migration inflows, which has turned out to be a decisive factor for economic growth and demographic sustainability. The results show that municipalities that have worked actively with integration have not only managed to accommodate the sudden needs of refugees, but actively benefitted from population growth and increased tax revenue. While the ensuing result does not necessarily advocate for increased immigration, it challenges established macroeconomic principles and the presumption that a stricter migration regime would mend the financial woes of all Swedish municipalities.
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