FILIPSTAD, Sweden — At first, local leaders were inclined to see the refugees as an opportunity. The iron ore mines had shut down. So had a factory that made machinery for the logging industry. The town had been abandoned, its population cut in half. A shot at replenishment appeared at hand.
It was the summer of 2015, and people were arriving from some of the most troubled places on earth — Syria, Somalia, Iraq. They would fill vacant homes, learn Swedish, and take jobs caring for older Swedes. They would pay taxes, helping finance the extensive social welfare programs that have made Sweden a rarity in the world, a country seemingly at peace in an age of tempestuous global capitalism.
But four years after the influx, growing numbers of native-born Swedes have come to see the refugees as a drain on public finances. Some decry an assault on “Swedish heritage,” or “Swedish culture,” or other words that mean white, Christian and familiar. Antipathy for immigrants now threatens to erode support for Sweden’s social welfare state.
“People don’t want to pay taxes to support people who don’t work,” says Urban Pettersson, 62, a member of the local council here in Filipstad, a town set in lake country west of Stockholm. “Ninety percent of the refugees don’t contribute to society. These people are going to have a lifelong dependence on social welfare. This is a huge problem.”