14:38 GMT +320 July 2019
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    Ethnic Prejudice Lurking in Broad-Minded Scandinavia

    © AFP 2019 / OLIVIER MORIN
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    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)

    While the Nordic countries indeed try their best to project an air of tolerance and progress, it seems that hard-bitten bias still lingers on and seems difficult to weed out.

    Refugees sleep outside the entrance of the Swedish Migration Agency's arrival center for asylum seekers at Jagersro in Malmo, Sweden, early November 20, 2015
    More than half of Finnish municipal residents do not wish to live next door to representatives of ethnic minorities, a survey by the Finnish Justice Ministry revealed. On the other hand, though, asylum seekers in the same municipalities would like to have more contact with the majority population, the same survey indicated.

    This indicates that attitudes towards immigration gradually hardening since 2015, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported. Incidentally, the most negative attitudes towards foreigners occur among people from "Finnish" neighborhoods, whose circle of friends almost exclusively consists of representatives of the majority population.

    While radically negative and overtly xenophobic attitudes remain quite marginal and the majority of Finns condemn racism, prejudice and harassment are still commonplace for non-Finns, the report indicated. At least one third of the interviewed asylum seekers reportedly experienced discrimination and harassment.

    Verbal abuse and offensive gestures were cited as the most common forms of intolerance, while physical violence is much less common. Remarkably, though, even employees and volunteers who work at asylum centers tend to avoid speaking openly about their work, which is said to lead to criticism or even harassment.

    In neighboring Sweden, meanwhile, elderly Swedes who use home care services were found to explicitly request "non-foreign" helpers, a desire that was fulfilled to various degrees by local care providers and triggered a debate on racism and xenophobia.

    According to Swedish Radio, all municipalities in Västernorrland County provide the opportunity for people in need of home care to specifically refuse foreign personnel, which stirred discrimination concerns. In Ånge Municipality, these requests were even reported to have consequences for staff recruitment, with foreigners being excluded from temporary summer work.

    Employers' organization the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) refused to take stance on the matter, yet press chief Helene Lindstrand noted that "one has to act within the framework of the Social Services act and the Anti-discrimination Act." According to her, individual care receivers can always express wishes of different kinds, but it was ultimately up to municipalities to decide. She also stressed that there is no right for an individual to receive or not to receive help from a specific person.

    The practice was also slammed by Swedish Public Administration Minister Ardalan Shekarabi, who called the situation "unacceptable" in a tweet.

    "You have no right to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender, ethnicity or background. This is a fundamental issue," a dismayed Ardalan Shekarabi told Swedish Radio.

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    intolerance, racial bias, migrant crisis, Scandinavia, Finland, Sweden
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