Cablegate: Snapshot of Muslim Communities in Sweden

DE RUEHSM #0779/01 3490926
R 150926Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2019


Classified By: DCM Robert Silverman for reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 1. (SBU)

Summary: As in other European countries, Muslim communities in Sweden are fast-growing and diverse. Muslims represent between 2.7% to 4.4% of the total Swedish population of 9.2 million, some 250,000 to 450,000 persons. Prominent communities are from Iraq and other Arabic-speaking countries (200,000), Iran (100,000), the former Yugoslavia (70,000), Turkey (60,000) and Somalia (25,000). There are four officially sanctioned mosques and many more informal "corner mosques" throughout Sweden.

2. (SBU) This is the first in a three-part series on Muslim communities in Sweden. Part one describes demographic trends in Muslim-majority immigrant communities. Part two outlines immigrant integration struggles in Swedish society. Part three discusses Islamic radicalization and extremism as well as U.S. engagement programs with Muslim-majority communities in Sweden. End Summary.


3. (SBU) The first Muslims arrived in Sweden as guest workers in the 1960s from Turkey, Yugoslavia and Pakistan (ref A). Over the next four decades, these numbers grew because of family reunification immigration policies as well as conflicts in countries such as Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia and Somalia. Sweden's generous asylum laws provide high levels of social services -- housing, health care, Swedish language instruction and employment training -- to the newly arrived.

4. (SBU) It is difficult to provide exact numbers of Muslims in Sweden today because the Swedish government prohibits collecting information on personal religious beliefs. Studies frequently suggest a range between 250,000 and 450,000, or about 2.7% to 4.4% of the total Swedish population of 9.2 million. Within the Islamic community, unconfirmed estimates suggest this number may be as high as 500,000. Academic reports assess that one-third of Muslims in Sweden are practicing (i.e., they follow most prescribed laws of Islam and regularly visit mosques) while the remaining two-thirds describe themselves as secularized (i.e., they do not follow the laws of Islam and believe in a separation between religion and state). Most Muslims in Sweden are Sunni. One 2007 EU report estimates that there are 60,000 Shia in Sweden.

5. (SBU) There are four officially sanctioned mosques and many more informal "corner mosques" throughout Sweden. Stockholm is home to the Grand Mosque plus three smaller mosques with predominantly Arabic-, Turkish- and Persian-speaking congregations. There is one Shia mosque in the small industrial city of Trollhattan in western Sweden, where the majority of foreign-born residents come from the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia and Syria. The Malmo mosque in southern Sweden attracts 55,000 and maintains an Islamic school and library.

6. (C) The Bellevue Mosque in Gothenburg follows the Salafi movement and is attended by many Somali individuals. In July 2009, Xasaan Xuseen, a spiritual leader of al-Shabaab, visited the Bellevue Mosque, causing concern that young people would be recruited to fight with al-Shabaab in Somalia (ref B). There is also a large Ahmadiyya mosque in Gothenburg. "Corner mosques" or informal places of worship are only a "minor issue" in Sweden, according to Swedish counter-terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp (protect). A recent study by Mid Sweden University reports that 70% of mosques are open and willing to engage in integration programs for newly arrived Muslims. One important service these programs provide, according to the study, is to create networks between established Muslims and the newly arrived.


7. (SBU) The information presented on prominent Muslim communities in Sweden is based on official Swedish statistical reporting about country of birth, citizenship, and parents' citizenship(s). This data is commonly used to infer ethnicity and other information such as religious beliefs, although the figures reported here should be STOCKHOLM 00000779 002 OF 003 regarded only as estimates.


8. (SBU) There are 110,00 Iraqis who live in Sweden today. This number increased significantly between 2003-2008 when over 40,000 Iraqis arrived as refugees, prompting Swedish officials to call for more countries -- including the United States -- to accept Iraqi citizens fleeing from war. Most Iraqis in Sweden come from Mosul and Baghdad, and many have high levels of education, which some scholars claim may result in less religious affiliation among both Muslims and non-Muslims. Statistics Sweden reports that 55% of Iraqi-born individuals in Sweden are men and 45% are women. The average age for men in this group is 33 and for women is 32. An estimated 27% (30,000) of the Iraqi population in Sweden belongs to the Chaldean Catholic, Syriac Orthodox or Syriac Catholic faiths (often identified collectively as "Assyrians"), which suggests that a disproportionate number of Iraq's Christian population (5%) came to Sweden (ref C). Kurds are also heavily represented among Iraqi immigrants to Sweden.

9. (SBU) Most Iraqis in Sweden live in the metropolitan areas of Stockholm (33,500), Gothenburg (12,00) and Malmo (11,000). Sodertalje, a city of 80,000 just south of Stockholm, is home to some 6,000 Iraqis, the majority of whom are Christian. In recent months, the Swedish Migration Board reports that Iraqi asylum claims are down 74% from 2008. The Swedish Government says that 293 Iraqi individuals have been deported and an additional 862 are currently awaiting deportation following a 2007 decision by the Swedish Migration Board declaring Iraq a non-combat zone. The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter states that there have been three mass deportations of Iraqis from Sweden, which has caused tension between the two governments because Iraqi Migration Minister Abdul Samad Sultan announced that Iraq does not accept forced deportations. In December, the Swedish Migration Board announced that they would review the security situation of Christians in Iraq due to increased reports of violence, which may prompt a change in Swedish policy.


10. (SBU) Iranians number 80,000 to 100,000, although this community is often characterized as "culturally" rather than "religiously" Muslim because many individuals left Iran in the 1980s in opposition to religious leadership. In Stockholm, there are about 24,000 Iranians whereas Gothenburg is home to 12,800. An EU analysis estimates that one-sixth of this population is a practicing Muslim. Iranians tend to adopt some Swedish customs, such as more egalitarian views on gender relations and sexuality, according to one research study. Iranian immigrants also tend to be well educated -- 50% had earned high school diplomas and 20% had at least three years of university education at the time of their migration to Sweden. --- Former Republic of Yugoslavia

11. (SBU) In the early 1990s, about 50,000 asylum seekers from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Kosovo were granted temporary residence in Sweden, although several thousand returned home through repatriation programs in the late 1990s. Today, immigrants continue to come primarily from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo based on family reunification, and the entire community has expanded to 70,000 individuals. An estimated 65% of Bosnian immigrants to Sweden hold Swedish citizenship, which is largely viewed by Bosnians as a pragmatic move to facilitate travel between the two countries. There are 12,200 individuals from the former Yugoslavia who live in the Malmo metropolitan region.


12. (C) There are 40,000 to 60,000 Turkish immigrants in Sweden. According to research by Stockholm University's Charles Westin (protect), immigrants from Turkey might identify as Turks, Kurds or Syrians. Many Turkish Muslims came as labor migrants in the 60s and 70s when Turks were the largest and most prominent Muslim community in Sweden. While most intended to return, many now view Sweden as home and recognize that their children have grown up as Swedes. A new study appearing in the International Migration Review research journal shows that many Turkish immigrants still maintain strong social and cultural ties to their home country.

Somalia STOCKHOLM 00000779 003 OF 003

13. (SBU) There are 25,000 Somali immigrants who live in Sweden, of which 8,000 are Swedish citizens. With the decline of Iraqi asylum seekers, Somalis now represent the largest group of asylum seekers in Sweden. This population is a relatively young group -- the average age for both Somali-born men and women in Sweden is 29. There has also been a sharp rise in unaccompanied Somali minors to Sweden. Between January and June 2009, there were 355 Somali minors who applied for asylum compared to 345 who applied in 2008 (ref D). The Swedish Security Police (SAPO) report that around 20 Somali-Swedes have gone to Somalia to take part in or train with al-Shabaab; some have been killed in Somalia (ref B). SAPO is worried that interest in volunteering for such activity is increasing in Sweden.

Other Arabic-Speaking Communities

14. (SBU) There are prominent immigrant groups from Syria (24,000), Lebanon (23,000), Morocco (7,000), Tunisia (4,000), Egypt (3,000), Algeria (2,000) and the West Bank and Gaza (2,000). Among immigrants from Syria and Lebanon -- the largest of these groups -- many individuals identify with Christian denominations. --- The Kurdish Diaspora

15. (SBU) The Kurdish diaspora in Sweden is estimated to be 50,000 - 60,000 individuals, many of whom originally came from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. In statistical reporting, Kurds are recognized by their country of origin, but they represent a cohesive diaspora in Sweden. Swedish Kurds are well organized through several friendship associations that promote Kurdish language instruction and cultural events.

Smaller Communities

16. (SBU) Immigrants from Muslim-majority countries including Pakistan (7,600) and Bangladesh (4,800) also live in Sweden, but these communities are considerably smaller than their counterparts in Norway and Denmark. The Eritrean community (7,800) is also growing. Dan Eliasson, Director-General of the Swedish Migration Board, announced in late September that Sweden will accept "a couple hundred" Eritrean and Somali refugees as part of the quotas agreed upon with the UNHCR. (Note: Sweden is the EU country that accepts the most quota refugees. Last year, Sweden took 1,900 of the 4,800 quota refugees who arrived in Europe.) Ethiopians (10,000) are represented by a small Muslim minority. Stockholm's Radio Negashi (88.9MHz), "The Voice of Ethiopian Muslims," broadcasts weekly programs on Islamic history and social issues.


17. (SBU) The tremendous diversity of fast-growing Muslim communities in Sweden provides unique opportunities for outreach and engagement to Muslim individuals with social and economic ties to the Middle East, Africa, and South Central Asia. BARZUN

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