This content is not available in your region

Riots prompt focus on Sweden's poor immigrant suburbs

Riots prompt focus on Sweden's poor immigrant suburbs
Text size Aa Aa

Almost a week of rioting in parts of Stockholm has highlighted social problems among the mainly immigrant communities in poor areas of Swedish cities.

Heavy police reinforcements meant Friday night was relatively calm, but there was still some violence for the sixth night running.

For the first time there was also trouble, notably arson attacks, outside the capital.

The rioting is not on the scale seen in some other western European countries in recent years. But it has prompted a national debate on issues such as the assimilation of immigrants, crime and parental responsibility.

Some blame growing inequality – more than in any other developed nation over the past 25 years, according to the OECD.

Sweden’s centre-right government under Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has lowered taxes and reduced state benefits. Economic growth has outpaced most of Europe but the positive effects have not been equally shared.

“It’s an explosive situation that we have warned of for several years because the new (economically) liberal policies in this country will lead to social unrest,” said community leader Arne Johansson.

“It’s young people who lack a belief in the future and young adults who don’t have jobs and who have missed out on school, and also younger ones who have problems at school and there are also very few activities with youth centres closing,” he added.

One government study showed that up to a third of young people aged 16-29 in the most deprived areas in Sweden’s big cities are unemployed.

But in Husby, scene of the worst rioting, the community mobilised to stop the trouble.

“When it was at its worst and the media painted a black picture of Husby, people living in Husby went outside to solve this. We walked in groups, together with youth workers, the Islamic Cultural Centre, people from the mosque and young people like us from the team and others,” said Alikalay, a youth worker.

“People have felt frustration before, that politicians don’t invest as much in the suburbs, which is true, but choose to invest in the inner city. But you can’t justify violence and it’s always difficult to see that parents – my parents, other people’s parents – are affected by this. They can’t sleep at night, cars are burning, small children can’t safely walk in the streets and stones are thrown,” he said on the sidelines of a football tournament for local schools.

Some in Sweden blame criminality and poor parenting for the unrest; others point the finger at the poor integration of immigrants. The number of asylum-seekers, mostly from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, increased by 50 percent in 2012 on the previous year.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of people support immigration, although the proportion is falling.

The Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag said Sweden would continue to be an open and tolerant society.

“We can never be in the situation when we let some kids throwing stones represent all the foreign people living in Sweden. We have 15 percent of the Swedish population born abroad today and we’re proud of it and we shouldn’t go down the slippery slope of making people that are making criminal acts represent all the immigrants of Sweden,” he said.