The Palestinians in Sweden

The Palestinians in Sweden
Engaged for Palestine beyond their Diverse Legal Statuses

View Chronology

The Palestinians in Sweden

24 March 2024
Helena Lindhom

Sweden is home to a substantial Palestinian community. Palestinians immigrated to Sweden at different historical turning points and in relation to different traumatic events in their history.


The first substantial Palestinian migration to Sweden occurred in the 1960s, when refugee students from Lebanon , Syria , and Jordan arrived in Sweden for vocational training, through a cooperation arrangement between UNRWA and large Swedish companies such as Volvo . After training, some of those stayed on in Sweden, employed in the expanding manufacturing companies, and came to form the nucleus of a settled Palestinian society. A second large wave of Palestinian immigrants arrived after the 1967 War , fleeing Israeli military expansionism. The largest group arrived in Sweden in the 1980s, following the Lebanon War and the evacuation of the PLO from Lebanon, leaving the Palestinian refugee community there in a vulnerable position.

There have also been Palestinians arriving from Libya , the Gulf states , Iraq , and recently from the Gaza Strip and Syria. The large wave of refugees from the Syrian War between 2012 and 2015 also included a substantial number of stateless Palestinians who had been residing in Syria in the generations since the first Nakba of 1947–49. Between 2013 and 2016, all refugees from Syria (regardless of citizenship) were granted permanent residence in Sweden.

Many stateless Palestinians have emigrated to Sweden from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the Gulf states, and some from Gaza. Many in this category are multiple refugees and migrants, from different wars and insecurities in the Middle East . Not all are “refugees” in the legal definition of the term; some had been living in Gulf countries when they immigrated to Sweden. This group of people is in a particularly precarious situation in the Swedish system since they often lack valid claims for asylum or protection. Hence, they rarely obtain residence permits. Many end up in a limbo-situation since they are supposed to leave the country, but at the same time, they are ‘‘undeportable’’, since there is nowhere for them to return. Which means that they in legal terms are to leave the country and live in limbo. However, since they are stateless, there is no country to deport them to.

Given the different historical waves of immigrants of Palestinian origin, a substantial number of people are now Swedish citizens, and their country of origin is not registered in official state statistics; nor it is registered for those who are stateless upon arrival. The number of Palestinians residing in Sweden is estimated to be around 75,000–80,000 in 2023.

The legal status of persons identifying themselves as Palestinians in Sweden is diverse. It includes individuals born in Sweden (and thus are Swedish citizens); those who were born in Palestine or in Sweden and have at least one parent born in Palestine; stateless individuals; citizens of Jordan; individuals born in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, the United Arab Emirates or other Gulf states; asylum seekers, newly arrived, refugees, paperless, persons with temporary travel documents from different Arab states, persons with a combination of documents or persons with ‘unknown identity’. Distinctions are not clear and sometimes overlapping. They may have lived in Sweden for decades and families may include both two and three generations or they may be recent immigrants. Their legal status, country of birth, and length of residence in Sweden vary, and identities are fluid and amorphous.


Palestinians in Sweden have throughout history been involved in a variety of forms of activism and lobbying for the cause of Palestine. They also organize to preserve and nurture Palestinian culture and identity in the new homeland. Political organization and activism have been connected to the political structure of Sweden and Sweden’s Middle East politics. In the 1980s, solidarity with Palestine was connected to the links between Fatah  and the Social Democratic Party , but also with the Left Party (then named the Left Party the Communists) and smaller left-wing political parties and organizations. Since then, the pro-Palestine solidarity movement has (largely) been linked to the Swedish left. That is still the case, whereas in the Swedish conservative alliance, the general tendency is pro-Israeli. Through political linkages, there is lobbying which intends to affect Swedish foreign policy. However, the Palestinian political advocacy has never become a strong voice in Sweden, even though Social Democratic-dominated governments have tended to sympathize with the Palestinian cause.

The main solidarity organizations are the Palestine groups (Palestinagrupperna ) and the Palestine Committee (Palestinakommittén ). They have been supporting projects in Lebanon, Gaza, and the West Bank through funding by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency , Sida, as well as advocating and lobbying for the Palestinian cause. This funding was substantially cut in 2023 by the new conservative Swedish government. Over time, other, smaller organizations have been established, such as Ship to Gaza , attempting to reach Gaza with ships sailing across the Mediterranean , or local branches of the international network Samidoun , focusing on Palestinian prisoners. In Sweden, the globalized Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement is loosely organized and has not attracted any widespread support. In addition, there is a wide array of Palestinian-based religious, cultural, and political organizations and associations, often with a strongly local foundation. In some suburbs in the city of Malmö and elsewhere, Palestinian residence is substantial, which leads to strong family and community networks. Smaller organizations tend to come and go depending on existing networks and individual commitment. Their focus could be to maintain bonds with Palestinian cultural heritage, music, literature, and food; to provide a platform for weddings; to help newly arrived immigrants; or to mobilize for political support. Many organizations focus on preserving Palestinian cultural and political identity.

Since 2000, activism has increasingly been mobilized over internet, providing diaspora communities with new tools to connect with the homeland and transcending global boundaries, such as Facebook groups like We who love Palestine and The Palestinian Community in Sweden . Several communities and chatgroups on social media generate activism during times of catastrophic events in Gaza or the West Bank, only to recede when violence in Palestine recedes. When there is large-scale violence in Gaza or the West Bank, those channels mobilize and use networks in Palestine to spread information and communicate grievances and resistance. During the war between Israel and Hamas in 2023, weekly demonstrations took place in Swedish cities calling for an end to the war and support for Palestine. Also, there was a peek in social media activism, like in many other parts of the globe.

Since the adoption of the definition of anti-Semitism promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance , Palestinian activists have been accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. This development, together with with racist attitudes and Islamophobia in Swedish society, affect the potential and willingness of the Palestinian community in Sweden to organize politically.


Palestinians who arrived in Sweden in the 1960s are fairly well integrated. Thus, early generations have been able to provide support for newer arrivals, and family and kin networks have been active in facilitating the adjustment of new migrants. Of course, the level of integration varies and is to some extent dependent on duration of residence in Sweden. Palestinians who have grown up in Sweden or who are Swedish citizens say that they feel equally Palestinian and Sweden. They appreciate the sense of safety, security, citizenship, humanitarian worldview, and civil liberties that Sweden affords them.

While many feel that they move with relative ease between their Palestinian and Swedish identities, some often find themselves being questioned by the majority white Swedish population, which has defined norms and ideas of what it means to be “Swedish.” With political racism in Sweden on the rise, Palestinians and other migrant communities are experiencing difficulties, whereas children born to Palestinian parents often become fully integrated. The integration of Palestinians in Swedish society has not been sufficiently studied.

Palestinians have established themselves in business and entrepreneurship, as public servants, and in the cultural spheres. The father of highly popular pop artist Eric Saade is a Palestinian born and raised in Lebanon; TV personalities such as Farah Abadi , Gina Dirawi , and Tareq Taylor have Palestinian background and this origin is sometimes talked about in news media.

Palestinians in Sweden feel that it is important for them to maintain and nurture a Palestinian identity and to keep ties to the homeland and to political developments in Palestine. Many from different generations describe activism for Palestine as a “responsibility,” and identifying oneself as Palestinian is a political act as much as it is a cultural one.

Selected Bibliography: 

Doraï, Mohamed Kamel. ‘‘Palestinian Emigration from Lebanon to Northern Europe: Refugees, Networks and Transnational Practices.’’ Refuge 21, no.2 (2003): 23–31.

Lindholm, Helena. ‘‘Refusing Refusal: The Struggles of Stateless Palestinians in the Swedish Migration Regime.’’ Statelessness & Citizenship Review 3, no.2 (2021): 267–86.

Lindholm Schulz, Helena with Juliane Hammer. The Palestinian Diaspora: Formation of Identities and Politics of Homeland. London: Routledge, 2003.