Sweden is a model nation for tolerance and openess but this has been placed under great strain since last Friday’s truck attack in the capital. The country is in mourning, and must manage the tensions sparked by a rise in Islamophobia and hate crimes.
Sweden had a deserved reputation as Europe’s most generous when it came to supporting asylum seekers.
The country accepted 700,000 of them in the nearly three decades since the 1990s, but in the crisis year of 2015 163,000 were let in. All this in a nation of only 10 million.
This open doors policy is visible in the streets of Rinkeby, a Stockholm district that is mostly migrant today, totally transformed by immigration, and which has seen youth riots. Tension is rising today as the political climate worsens complains a local Social Democrat leader.
“In some ways I’m very worried when it comes to the political climate and we’ve seen that it wasn’t even 48 hours later that manipulated photos where a young Muslim woman was placed in the attack area came out, and there you can see the work of Nazis and people who want to spread hateful ideologies, and they’ve already started,” says Mohamed Nuur.
Hostility towards migrants is considered a taboo in Sweden. But cracks in the edifice are appearing says Sajad Khalaf, a bricklayer born in Iraq 25 ago.
“The far-right Sweden Democrats have always grown and according to them an attack was just a matter of time. Now it has happened, so I think it will grow. It will be a catastrophe I think,” he says, pausing from a game of football with friends.
In fact support for the ideology of the anti-immigration “Sweden Democrats” is rising, and opinion polls put it second behind the ruling Social Democrats of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. In January 2016 some of his critics held a demonstration calling on him to resign.
Lofven used this week’s ceremony to honour the four victims of last Friday’s attack to praise democratic society’s determination in the face of such an ordeal to overcome the tragedy.
But the fact remains that 2015’s great flood of refugees has provoked a re-examination of some basics for this Nordic nation, and the government has slammed the open door, toughening residency requirements, stepping up border controls, and slashing asylum seekers’ benefits.