Sweden now the country with the highest percentage of Thai wives
Sweden has emerged as the country with the highest percentage of local men with Thai wives or life partners.
As well as a growing number of Thai workers travelling to Sweden as seasonal workers, the number of Thai women arriving in Sweden has increased
three fold over the last 10 years. Over 80% of Thai immigrants to Sweden are relationship partners or Thai
wives of Swedish men and Sweden, like Germany has a long tradition of men seeking Thai women as life partners. Sweden is one of a few countries
where there is now a second and third generation Thai community which still maintains very close links with Thailand. However, the increased levels of
younger Thai women now entering Sweden has now become a political issue.
Last year, a female governor of one rural Swedish province requested that the government look into this situation, investigate abuse and perhaps even
limit the number of Thai women permitted into the country. She has now been given a mandate from the Swedish government to investigate the trend
although government agencies and leading academic have also conductive a qualitative studies into the nature of the growing number of relationships
between Swedish men and Thai women. Although Sweden portrays itself to be one of the more liberal countries in Europe, the Swedish government is
concerned with this as immigration becomes a powerful and divisive political issue.
In fact, the Swedish government has had several issues to deal with. In spite of it representing its country as liberal and progressive, Swedes has been
putting their government under pressure to investigate such issues as gay and lesbian marriages, the ordination of lesbian bishops and the growth of the sex
industry in Sweden, including the large numbers of Thai massage parlours in Stockholm.
Those lobbying the Swedish government highlight the number of Thai women who appear to be discarded by their male Swedish partners or seek help from Sweden's welfare agencies. Women's
groups claim many Thai women have been subjected to abuse by Swedish men. However, like Finland and Norway, while there are documented cases of
abuse, most relationships between Thai women and Swedish men are successful. Although there is no accurate data on relationship breakdown between Thai
women who marry Swedish men, it is likely to be lower than the overall divorce rate in Sweden which is now nearly 55%. One UK man living in Sweden
estimates that over 85% of marriages between Thai women and Swedish men are successful.
Jim Henderson is a Londoner living in Stockholm who met his Thai wife Paphora on ThaiLoveLines in 2010 and now lives happily in Sweden: 'My wife
loves Sweden in spite of the cold, we are very happy but I have heard stories of some guys on their third wife from Thailand, I have had to take my wife to
the hospital and the administrators insisted on having a Thai translator for her when she first arrived even though she speaks very good English. I think the
authorities are right to be so protective here but I am concerned that some people have an agenda. Behind their concern for Thai women, I think they really
want to cut down on it.'
Although there are undoubtedly concerns for some Thai women who are married to Swedes or in long-term relationships, a new survey by a Swedish
academic institute into Thai women living in rural Sweden shows that Thai women do not fit the obvious stereo types often portrayed. The survey finds a
colourful picture of strong women working hard to make a new life in a very different country and culture. This is similar to studies carried out in diverse
countries such as Finland, Germany and Australia where government agencies have accepted that most relationships between Thai women and foreign men
are, in fact, bone fide.
Says Jim: 'Sweden is a great country but it's the same as all wealthy countries, there has been such a change in the dating culture and family life. I'm a
professional, I've had wonderful dating experiences with Swedish women but I never married until I met my wife in Thailand. It never occurred to me that there could be something wrong with what I was doing until I had some comments
from friends and started reading stuff on the net. Most times it sort of amuses me but there have been times when I've gotten annoyed with the rubbish been
thrown out there.'
Thai Immigration and Berry Picking
In fact, increasing numbers of Swedish men are choosing Thai women to be their wives. Not only that, but immigration of both Thai men and women into
Sweden is nothing new: this has been taking place for many years, and the Thai community in Sweden has been steadily growing over the years. There has
not been a sudden influx of Thai women into Sweden although the trend has increased steadily
and sharply - perhaps it has reached a critical level or perhaps the key factor is that Swedish society is coming to terms with new political and social tensions.
For instance the Swedish berry industry has relied on Thais for many years. Except for Thais picking berries under temporary work visas, the Swedish
berry harvests would have been in trouble.
This is a job that native Swedes apparently dislike doing, hence the decision of the Swedish government in 2007 to allocate temporary visas to Thais to
help gather in this important harvest to the Swedish economy. Blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries and raspberries among others have to be picked, most
Swedes regard the wages paid to be beneath them.
The Swedish berry crops have to be picked, and as in many western countries, Swedes tend not to be interested in this type of work. Farmers rely on
immigrants to carry out this work, and Thailand has tended to supply most of these for the Swedish berry crop since the 2007 visa agreement. In fact, 3,582
permits were given to Thais in 2008, and while many have claimed this to be slave labour the Thai workers would disagree.
Thais can make enough money picking berries in a season to buy a house back in Thailand. Their monthly income is more than that of a doctor in
Thailand, and Swedes should not judge income by their own standards. Many berry pickers originate from the very poor north-east of Thailand, where the
income these workers can earn is a fortune by local standards. Many return year after year because Swedes will not do the hard work for the same
Exploitation of Thai Women in Sweden
There is certainly evidence in Sweden of abuse occurring to Thai women travelling to
the country. In spite of its Liberal and progressive image Sweden has a vibrant sex industry with a reputed 190 Thai massage parlours in Stockholm
There are stories of young Thai women being sold by their families to Swedish men and then forced into slavery or the sex trade when they arrive in
Sweden. In fact, the parallel business of human trafficking to satisfy the explosion in the prostitution industry is often confused with the growth in inter racial
dating worldwide now made possible by the internet.
It has to be said however that there is anecdotal evidence of some Thai women who have been discarded by Swedish husbands or where relationships
have broken down, turning to the sex industry. The Swedish government has been very active in preventing this and is making efforts to inform Thai women
in such situations of their rights and support that is available from government agencies. The Thai embassy in Sweden has recently announced a hotline for
Thai women stranded in Sweden. This is part of an overall policy initiative taken by the Thai government throughout the world in response to the huge
increase in Thai women marrying foreign partners.
Jim Henderson says: ' I think most responsible men who have Thai wives or relationship partners are deeply concerned at this sort of activity, I don't
think it's the real story and I think most government agencies already know this, the problem is, as I said some groups want to tar it all with the same brush.
That's not funny when it touches you personally, you know but we just get on with it.'
Integration of Thais into Swedish Communities
Enlightened immigration policies in Sweden have led to a virtual invasion by Thai workers of many kinds, not just crop pickers. Thais have also moved to
Sweden to open restaurants and Thai restaurants, as in countries all over the world form the vanguard of the Thai community.
Many Thais have settled permanently in Sweden over the past 20 years. In fact, it is estimated that there are now around 30,000 Thai-born people living
in Sweden, including wives of Swedish men, restaurant owners and those that run small business of various kinds. Thais are astute business people, and
many Thai wives are able to run businesses themselves.
They have integrated well into local communities. In Utanede, in the north of Sweden just east of Östersund, one of the major tourist attractions is a
genuine Thai pavilion, the spire of which rises well above the pines and birch trees. It is the only pavilion of its design outside Thailand.
Noi, a young Thai woman living in Utanede, says 'this is great: It's good for the Swedes to experience our culture and we feel almost at home here.'
Apart from being a tourist attraction, the pavilion has generated interest in the development of trade between Thailand and Sweden.
There are more Thais in Sweden than just the seasonal workers, and Thais are not the only seasonal workers here. There are many other nationalities
represented in those that work in the northern forests of Sweden, although it is the Thai women that the Swedes appear to prefer to marry. In fact, in some
areas they are no longer perceived as being 'exotic,' but are regarded as members of the local communities.
Thai women in Sweden are enjoying an increasing degree of acceptance by their Swedish neighbours, many of whom learn a great deal from their Thai
friends. Each culture can learn from the other, and while the Swedish government may be concerned at the level of Thai immigration, those that live with
them and marry them welcome the diversity that these colourful and hard-working people offer to their communities.