May 21, 2016


Syrian refugees give new life to struggling city of Malmö (Richard Orange in Malmö, 21 May 2016, The Guardian)

Among its members are some of the biggest success stories from three decades of Arab immigration into the city. Some 43% of Malmö's 317,000-strong population now have a foreign background, with the 40,000 Iraqi-born citizens and their descendants forming the largest single group. Together they have transformed a city which in the early 1980s was in such a deep slump after the collapse of its shipbuilding industry that one in seven inhabitants packed their bags and left, bringing the population as low as 230,000. "Malmö in the 1990s was a totally depressing place: everybody was miserable," remembers Christer Havung, whose café, Bröd och Vänner, sits next to Ibrahim's salon.

The new arrivals have created an alternative city centre around Möllevång Square, with a busy vegetable market and shops selling Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese goods. "Malmö has changed completely," says Jassim Almudafar, an Iraqi who has worked for the last 14 years for Almi, a state-run bank that gives loans to immigrants starting businesses. "When I came to Sweden, there was no one who sold falafel, there was only sausage and hamburger. Now you have hardly anyone selling sausages, but maybe 50 or 60 falafel restaurants."

The statistics are grim, however. The unemployment rate for foreign-born men between 16 and 64 in Malmö is 30%, compared with 8% nationally. For foreign-born citizens between 18 and 24 it is 41%. The average annual income in 2014 for citizens born in Iraq was 53,000 kronor (£4,000), according to Statistics Sweden, compared with 285,000 kronor (£23,000) for those born in Sweden.

Almudafar is sceptical. Many of those he has backed over the past 14 years have gone from nothing to owning major businesses, he points out. Greg Dingizian, a property developer who is one of Malmö's richest men, came to Sweden as a child from Baghdad. Officially unemployed people have jobs in the black economy, while many businesses under-report earnings to avoid Sweden's punitive taxes.

"Immigrants create growth - think how many start businesses," Almudafar stresses. He is particularly bullish on the latest wave of immigrants from Syria. "They're a little different," he says. "They have ambition. After just a few months in Sweden they already want to set something up."

He has funded more than 50 new Syrian businesses and is in talks to fund hundreds more. There is a woman who wants to set up a factory making Syrian cheeses. There are bakeries, sweet-makers, dentists, IT consultants, building firms, a market gardener who plans to grow Syrian vegetables under glass, even a shop selling ouds, a sort of Arab lute.

In October, Mohaymen Selim, a 22-year-old Iraqi, launched Hello Shisha, whose delivery vans ferry water pipes packed with fragrant tobacco anywhere in the city. The business, powered by a busy Facebook page and a website blasting out electro house, is booming.

Posted by at May 21, 2016 8:56 AM