17th Apr 2021

Migrants mobilise voters ahead of Swedish elections

  • Altamimi, Yaseen and their friends started ZigZag, a movement to rise election turnout in Rosengard (Photo: EUobserver)

Mention the name Rosengard to anybody in Sweden and you will most likely meet with the following reactions: gang warfare, ethnic tension, shootings, burnt-out cars, and social deprivation.

But there is more to this migrant quarter in the Swedish city of Malmo and some young people in the area are pushing for change.

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  • El-Haj and Hillevi Larsson are fighting hard to keep Swedish Social Democrats in power (Photo: EUobserver)

Ahead of the general elections in Sweden on 9 September, Olla Altamimi, Abdularahman Yaseen, and their friends have started ZigZag, a movement to raise turnout in Rosengard.

"In this area, only 52 percent voted in the last elections, while over 90 percent voted in other parts of Malmo," Altamimi explains.

"We must dare to play our role in society. If we choose not to vote, it means we choose not to be part of society," she said.

Altamimi was only 6 years old when she came to Sweden from Iraq. Abdularahman came in 2015, the year when almost 163,000 people sought asylum in Sweden.

Their initiative is called ZigZag because it does not take a party political stand but attempts to criss-cross all sides and to always move ahead.

"Stop the crimes," said Altamimi, when asked by EUobserver what is the most important thing Swedish politicians ought to do.

"And perhaps install more video cameras," she added.

There are currently very few cameras in Rosengard. Everybody knows where they are and how to avoid them, she says.

A model city

Rosengard was built as a model development some 50 years ago. It is just outside the centre of Malmo, in southern Sweden, across the Oresund bridge from Denmark.

The apartment buildings are pretty, built of bricks with large green areas separating the blocks.

Car traffic is allowed on just a few larger roads and the cars are parked in huge lots. Meanwhile, bicycle lanes and walking paths allow shortcuts everywhere.

There is a football stadium - where the well-known footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose parents are migrants from the Balkans, learned to play – a sports hall, a swimming pool, a library, and a large shopping centre.

There are plenty of playgrounds for children. There is no garbage and very little graffiti to be seen.

But despite all this, it is one of the worst crime hotspots in Sweden.

Malmo is Sweden's fastest growing big city. Its population has increased by 43 percent since 1990, even more quickly than the capital, Stockholm.

More than 30 percent of people in Malmo were born outside Sweden, coming from 182 different nationalities, according to the city statistics.

Those who come to Sweden and do well try to move out of Rosengard as quickly as they can. As much as 15 percent quit the district every year, leaving the less fortunate behind.

Politics in Rosengard

The ZigZag movement set up a stand at a political festival, organised for one week in August.

It was a first for Rosengard to have all the political parties present in the park at the heart of the gang-ridden district, with politicians serving coffee and tea, while discussing issues and handing out leaflets to locals.

A grand debate with one speaker from each political party running in the elections was organised on a central stage, gathering around 100 people in the audience. Swedish public TV had a live reporter present and police kept a low-profile, but vigilant watch.

"It has been decided that nothing, absolutely nothing bad can be allowed to happen here. If you look to the roofs, you'll see snipers keeping an eye on everything," said one security guard, who did not want to be named.

"I was just 25 meters from a shooting in the square last week. There were three shots, but nobody got hit. It wasn't meant to hurt anyone, but I saw them hold a gun to the head of a young man and dragged him along the ground," he said.

Will he vote for the Sweden Democrats in the elections, EUobserver asked?

But like almost everybody else at the event, he did not want to confirm or deny support for the fast-growing anti-migrant party.

"Integration has failed. Many children do not speak Swedish and so they learn very little in school and eventually, they can't get a job. When they're 18-24 years old, they get into the criminal gangs to earn money, selling hash and drugs. They become somebody in their own world," he said.

Video-surveillance will not help, he added, because they wear masks. And they have lots of guns.

"People are scared and do not dare to report the gangsters," said Olla from the ZigZag movement.

No simple solutions

Jamal El-Haj is a local politician and Social Democrat party member of the Swedish parliament, Riksdagen. He is of Palestinian origin, but has lived in Sweden for over 30 years.

He is campaigning for re-election in Rosengard and was handing out ballot papers in three colours to political supporters at this week's event: Yellow for national elections, blue for regional ones, and white for local elections.

All the votes will be held on the same day - Sunday 9 September.

The Social Democrats have been in power in Malmo for over 25 years, but this time their rule is being challenged from both sides of the political spectrum.

The Left party, lead by former MEP Jonas Sjosted, is polling at around 9 percent and the anti-migrant Sweden Democrats at 21 percent, putting it on a path to become the second largest party in the elections.

In response to the unrest, the ruling Swedish Social Democrats have already set aside extra budgets for police and have started tightening migration policies.

"I don't think Sweden is in crisis. It is a fantastic country," said El-Haj.

Asked why support for the Sweden Democrats has boomed, he replied: "The Sweden Democrats are pointing to simple solutions, but there are no simple solutions".

"Europe accepted refugees and Sweden took over 160,000 in 2015. That was good, because Sweden needs migrants. But we are still struggling to find housing, jobs, and schools for the children and have not managed to fix it all in such a short time. It is perceived that we have taken too many migrants," El-Haj said.

"But we have adjusted the policies. In future, you need to be able to look after your family in order to bring them here, and we also introduced border control towards Denmark," he added.

Far-right isolated

All Swedish political parties have refused to co-operate with the anti-migrant Sweden Democrats in parliament ahead of the elections.

"The Moderates and the Social Democrats have copied large parts of our politics hoping to win their voters back. We will see what happens in the elections," said Nima Gholam Ali Pour, from the Sweden Democrats, referring to conservative Moderate party.

It is not power that is important, but instead to get the Sweden Democrat's politics through, he said.

He is himself a migrant, coming from Iran 30 years ago, and is now campaigning against immigration.

"Like everybody else, migrants have different opinions, some are leftists some are social democrats. I have my own opinions and I don't vote as a migrant - I have stopped migrating," he said, when asked about the contradiction.

"I think we should keep social security in Sweden and that we need to prioritise resources," he said.

"There is a special identity here in Rosengard, that you do not find elsewhere. It's like certain people here do not feel like Swedes, but as migrants. People are divided into two groups - the Swedes and the migrants. It's scary. People born here in Sweden are not going home, this is their country," he said.

To improve the situation in Rosengard, Swedish culture must be more present, the Sweden Democrat added.

But that is difficult when over 95 percent of children in the local schools are of foreign origin.

"We want preparation-schools, to avoid that newly arrived children are sent directly to the local school and complicating things there because they don't speak the language. It should not be so that the first that happens when you arrive to this county is that you fail. We need to prepare them for school," Gholam Ali Pour said.

"We also want more police and to pay them a higher salary to make sure they stay in their jobs. Here in Malmo we have squares that are not safe and we want them guarded," he added.

"The youngsters are not really dangerous, but they can become dangerous, if we allow them to take freedoms", he said.

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