Racist violence reveals Sweden’s xenophobic underbelly

Not much new in this account, which highlights Sweden’s integration challenges:

For thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe there is only one goal — to get to Sweden, a country known for its acceptance and tolerance of those escaping war and persecution.

But Sweden may not be as welcoming as they had hoped. A recent stabbing at a school in the small industrial city of Trollhattan, which killed a 20-year-old teacher and a 17-year-old student from Somalia, was described by police as an attack against “people with immigrant backgrounds.” There have also been 20 fires at refugee asylum centres.

The Scandinavian country has an underbelly of racism and xenophobia that could make life difficult for newcomers, says Daniel Poohl, managing director of Expo Foundation, an organization designed to shed light on racist ideas and organizations in Sweden.

Known for its civility and social cohesion, Sweden has seen an influx of immigrants, from the Balkans in the 1990s and more recently from Iraq and Afghanistan. But the latest wave of Syrian refugees — 190,000 are expected this year alone — has triggered an “agonizing” debate both politically and culturally, says Marie Demker, a professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg.

One outspoken anti-refugee and anti-immigrant group is the Swedish Democrats — a right-wing party that won 13 per cent of the vote in the September 2014 election. Now the third most powerful party in parliament, it is calling for a referendum on whether Sweden should close its borders to refugees and immigrants.

“Sweden is a country that is divided by the idea of us being a multicultural society,” says Poohl. Those who oppose the acceptance of refugees and immigrants are mobilizing and making their voices heard, he says.

Sweden is “very schizophrenic” when it comes to attitudes about racism and xenophobia, he says. “If you look at the majority of Swedes and their attitudes, Sweden stands out as an open and accepting country and people.” But, he adds, it is also clear people with “another skin colour” do not have the same opportunities.

“We’re very good at opening the first door for people, but very good at closing the next doors.”

According to a recent UN report, the rising level of racist violence and “Afrophobic” hate crimes is triggering “an extensive social problem” in Sweden, where 16 per cent of the population is foreign-born.

“There continues to be a general Swedish self-perception of being a tolerant and humane society, which makes it difficult to accept that there could be structural and institutional racism faced by people of African descent,” the report says.

Source: Racist violence reveals Sweden’s xenophobic underbelly | Toronto Star

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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