Sunday

19th Nov 2017

Sweden beset by anti-migrant arson attacks

  • An 'arrival center' in Malmoe. Some journalists and social media users accuse the Sweden Democrats (SD) for fuelling hatred against migrants (Photo: Swedish Civic Contingencies Agency)

In the month of October alone, ten asylum homes caught fire in Sweden in suspected cases of arson. As police search for the culprits, a debate has erupted on who, or what, is responsible.

”We announced that the building would become an asylum home and it was set ablaze the following night”, Olle Reichenberg, the municipal chairman of Danderyd, a wealthy Stockholm suburb, told Swedish radio. ”It seems clear to me what the motive was.”

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The former kindergarten in was just one of ten buildings that caught fire during the month of October in suspected cases of arson in different parts of the country. The police has so far not found any incendiary device.

Some journalists and social media users accuse Sweden’s right-wing party, the Sweden Democrats (SD) for fuelling hatred against migrants. In particular, local politician Ted Ekeroth published on Facebook a list of buildings about to be used for asylum seekers.

His twin brother Kent, an MP, urged a street audience to ”use every method” and show ”the establishment” that ”the people” oppose receiving more asylum seekers.

”You are a resistance movement”, he said, ”a spearhead to take our country back.”

Sweden Democrats' leader Jimmie Akesson was subsequently urged to distance himself from these actions. Akesson finally published a message on his Facebook page condemning both the fires and threats against SD politicians.

”Very much in our country is absolutely crazy. I affirm that it is about to go down the drain," he wrote.

"But what do they expect to achieve by setting fire to buildings and risking lives of innocent people? What do they believe to gain from using language that further worsens the debate? … No one is allowed to express themselves in a way that reinforces hatred and fear. No one has the right to exercise force. Arson and threats are serious crimes that should be punished”

Akesson announced he would pray for Sweden, despite not being a believer.

But Social Democratic foreign minister Margot Wallström said this was insufficient.

”Their rhetoric feeds fears. It can become the trigger for attacks for those who have evil thoughts and are themselves afraid”, she told Dagens Nyheter daily a day after the post was published.

Cross party agreement

Wallström admitted, however, that there is a point where refugee reception will be such a strain on Swedish society ”that we cannot do more”. But she could not specify where that point was.

In late October, the Swedish Migration Agency warned that it would have a shortfall of 25,000 to 45,000 sleeping places by the end of 2015, jeopardising adequate reception conditions.

The board warned that the number of asylum seekers spiked after the summer with more than a thousand people applying every day throughout October.

The authorities expect 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015 but uncertainty is high and the number could even reach 190,000. (81,000 applied in 2014; 54,000 in 2013.)

How many will actually go to Sweden depends on EU and individual member state actions, said Merjem Maslo, the board’s analyst.

The agency’s budget must increase by €3.1 billion in 2016, raising the overall cost of Sweden’s migration policy to €7.5 billion. Some money will be taken from Sweden’s development aid, to the dismay of development NGOs and Sweden’s ambitions of sitting in the UN Security Council. Sweden will also borrow money from abroad.

On 23 October, a day after the board’s announcement, the red-green government reached an agreement on the refugee crisis with four Christian democratic and liberal opposition parties. The agreement was too much to bear for the Left Party, which left the negotiation table. The Sweden Democrats were not invited to the discussions.

The text outlines 21 measures — from stepping up the forced returns of people who are not granted refugee status; forcing all municipalities to accept a given number of asylum seekers; temporary residence permits instead of permanent ones to some refugee groups; strengthening and exploring legal entryways; and lowering labour market protection for the newly arrived in order to facilitate their entry to the labour market.

In order to overcome the housing shortage, the government is looking into setting up tent camps in the southern parts of the country. Asylum seekers will also be lodged in schools, sport halls and at High Chaparral, a Western theme park.

A poll published a week after the agreement gives it a cautious approval. 25 percent of the population opposes it, mostly Left Party and SD voters.

Whether this new policy will influence the number of asylum seekers in Sweden is difficult to say. The government will, however, try to convince the European Commission to relocate a number of refugees from Sweden to other EU countries.

Alternative methods

The agreement was quickly dismissed by the SD party. In mid-October, SD leadership announced it had given up on parliamentary methods to change the course of Sweden’s migration policy - or, in their words, ”to save Sweden from the current catastrophe situation”.

From now on, they said, the party's 48 MPs (out of a total of 349) will spend minimal time in Riksdag, Sweden's Parliament.

”We will devote our forces to other methods of influence”, said group leader Mattias Karlsson.

These alternative methods will include campaigning for a referendum on immigration. Another campaign will try to dissuade people from coming to Sweden.

”We will turn abroad to all those who think there is something awaiting them in Sweden. We want to show that what is waiting are tents, snow and cold, and no help”, said migration spokesperson Paula Bieler.

The Migration Agency has decided to keep the addresses of new asylum homes confidential.

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