Worst riots in years challenge Sweden’s immigration model

Firefighters extinguish a burning car, following riots in the Stockholm suburb of Kista late May 21, 2013, in this picture provided by Scanpix. Sweden's capital has been hit by some of its worst riots
Firefighters extinguish a burning car, following riots in the Stockholm suburb of Kista late Tuesday night. Credit: Scanpix

Hundreds of youths have set fire to cars and attacked police and rescue workers in poor immigrant suburbs over three nights of rioting in Stockholm, Sweden’s worst disorder in years.

Last night, a police station in the Jakobsberg area in the northwest of the city was attacked, two schools were damaged and an arts and crafts center was set ablaze, despite a call for calm from Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

The riots in one of Europe’s richest capitals have shocked a country that prides itself on a reputation for social justice, and fuelled a debate about how Sweden is coping with both youth unemployment and an influx of immigrants.

“We’ve had around 30 cars set on fire last night, fires that we connect to youth gangs and criminals,” Kjell Lindgren, spokesman for Stockholm police, said Wednesday.

He said eight people had been arrested Tuesday night, but there were no reports of injuries.

The riots appear to have been sparked by the police killing of a 69-year-old man wielding a machete in the suburb of Husby this month, which prompted accusations of police brutality.

“Everyone must pitch in to restore calm — parents, adults,” Reinfeldt told reporters Tuesday.

After decades of practicing the “Swedish model” of generous welfare benefits, Sweden has been reducing the role of the state since the 1990s, causing inequality to spike.

While average living standards are still among the highest in Europe, governments have failed to substantially reduce long-term youth unemployment and poverty, which have affected immigrant communities worst.

The left-leaning tabloid Aftonbladet said the riots represented a “gigantic failure” of government policies, which had underpinned the rise of ghettos in the suburbs.

“We have failed to give many of the people in the suburbs a hope for the future,” Anna-Margrethe Livh of the opposition Left Party wrote in the daily Svenska Dagbladet.

An anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, has risen to third in polls ahead of a general election due next year, reflecting unease about immigrants among many voters.

Some 15 percent of the population is foreign-born, the highest proportion in the Nordic region. Unemployment among those born outside Sweden stands at 16 percent, compared with 6 percent for native Swedes, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Among 44 industrialized countries, Sweden ranked fourth in the absolute number of asylum seekers, and second relative to its population, according to U.N. figures.


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