International news

Swedish elections update

Sweden’s two primary rival blocs remain in political deadlock following this week’s general election. Voting took place on September 9 to elect the 349-member Riksdag, with an overall voter turnout reported at 84.4 per cent. The Riksdag, the national legislative body, elects the Prime Minister of Sweden. All votes are set to be counted and recounted prior to the final result being announced September 16.

The two rival blocs, the red-green coalition and the centre-right alliance, are separated by a narrow margin, with the red-green leading by only one seat. Each coalition holds close to 40 percent of the vote. The far-right Sweden Democrats received close to 17.6 per cent of the vote, up 13 per cent from previous years. Currently, the country is led by Stefan Lofven, who brought the red-green Social Democrats to power in 2014.

This is the first general election since Sweden opened its doors to 163,000 refugees in 2015, the highest per capita of any European country. Since then, Sweden has seen the prominence of smaller, outlying parties vying for and winning seats, including the far-right Sweden Democrats, who in the past election received 17.6% of the votes, a 13% increase from previous years. Both blocs have openly refused to consider the Sweden Democrats as a coalition partner. Led by Jimmie Akesson, the party has been historically anti-immigration, neo-Nazi, and neo-fascist.

Though Lofven stated he intends to remain in power, other parties have already called on him to resign. Experts foresee months of coalition talks ahead between the rival blocs.

Since publishing, the final tally of votes was released. Lofven’s Social Democrats won the most seats with 28.3 per cent of the vote. No coalition has formed a government yet.

Hungary and EU clash on migrant policy

‘We don’t see these people as Muslim refugees. We see them as Muslim invaders,’ said
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in an interview with German newspaper Bild. This statement is the latest in his country’s notoriously anti-immigrant sentiments and policies. After winning his third consecutive election in April, Orbán has been in control of Hungary since 2010. Orbán is currently standing off with the European Union over anti-immigration laws, after years of clashing with the EU on this very issue; Hungary has been opposed to accepting refugees since 2015. On August 24, Hungary passed a law which raised even more concerns for the EU. The “Stop Soros” bill, passed in Hungarian parliament prevents people from supporting migrants or ‘presenting immigration in a favourable light.’ The punishment for violation is imprisonment. After several warnings to refute this controversial law, the European Parliament took action against Orbán for the “Stop Soros” bill. While the European People’s Party (EPP), which Orbán was once a member of, stopped supporting him earlier this month, both Poland and Czechia have pledged to support Hungary by to vetoing any EU action against them.

Rescue boats in the Mediterranean halted

NGO rescue boats in the Mediterranean are no longer operating. Their absence poses a serious risk to shipwrecked migrants crossing from Libya to Europe. The number of drowning incidents while crossing the Mediterranean is rising, with the risk of death three times higher than before. The sea has not had rescue boats operating in its waters since August 26, the longest period without their presence since rescue operations began in 2015. This is also the second time this year that there’s been a lapse in service.

The current lack of rescue ships is a result of anti-immigration policies from both the Maltese and Italian governments, who have also closed their ports to rescue vessels. Since late August, only the Libyan coastguard patrols the water, and they have an agreement with Italy to take refugees back to Libya. People found in these waters are usually held in detention centres operated by Libyan officials. According to multiple aid agencies, including Doctors without Borders (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, migrants held in these camps are often subject to torture and abuse.

The Italian closed-ports policy, implemented earlier this year by Italy’s new populist government, led to the country’s lack of involvement in a recent shipwreck rescue. Hundreds of migrants drowned in early September, after a boat’s engine failed and an insufficient number of rescue crews were supplied by coastal countries. Both Italian and Maltese governments have since been criticized for choosing not to send rescue ships, or to allow NGO ships to dock on their shores.

An influx of migrants in recent years, most crossing the Mediterranean via Libya from Africa and the Middle East, has been met with a rise in xenophobic policies across Europe. Many migrants are political asylum seekers, and many are children. The international Organization for Migration, a UN organization, states that almost 13,000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean since 2014.