By Judith Bergman
Sweden’s new prime minister, Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson, who was previously finance minister, has a daunting task ahead of her: dealing with the ever-growing gang violence and firing shots in Swedish cities. Her predecessor, Stefan Löfven, was unable to curb the exponential growth in gunshots during his seven-year tenure. The Swedish parliament narrowly elected Andersson to succeed Löfven in November, after Löfven announced his resignation in August.
“Sweden is a fantastic country, but we are facing a number of serious problems,” Andersson said. “I intend to turn over every stone to break through racial segregation and roll back the violent crime that plagues Sweden…”
Sweden faces much more than a “serious problem”. Sweden has been breaking new crime records for years, but refuses to talk openly about the link between migration and gang violence. This reluctance may be due to a combination of political correctness and Sweden’s fear of missing its own stated ambition to be the “humanitarian superpower of the world.” Already in 2019, the leader of the opposition party Moderaterna,Ulf Kristersson, described the situation as “extreme for a country that is not at war”.
For a long time, any public discussion about the links between migration and rising crime and gang violence was considered taboo. The publication of statistics on this subject was abruptly stopped after the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) published them twice – in 1996 and 2005. In 2017, the then Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson refused to publish statistics on the ethnic background of criminals in Sweden; he said they were irrelevant. A majority of MPs supported his opinion. Privately conducted research on this topic was simply ignored. However, as gunshots became everyday occurrences in which more and more innocent passers-by were mutilated and killed, the unspeakable increasingly became a topic of discussion.
“It is no longer a secret that much of the problem of gang and organized crime with the shootings and explosions is linked to migration to Sweden in recent decades,” Gothenburg Police Chief Erik Nord wrote in a commentary in May.
“If, like me, you have the opportunity to follow things on an individual level, you see that basically everyone who shoots or is shot in gang conflicts comes from the Balkans, the Middle East, North or East Africa.”
In August, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention(Brå),in a complete U-turn reflecting how much sentiments in Sweden have changed since 2017, published for the first time in 16 years a new report with statistics on the ethnic background of registered offenders, writing:
“The distribution of registered crimes among people with native and non-native backgrounds is often the subject of discussion. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) has previously published two research studies on the subject, but several years have passed since the publication of the most recent study (2005), which focused on registered crime in the period 1997-2001. Since 2001, immigration to Sweden has increased and the composition of the foreign population has changed. The current study was initiated with this in mind, with the aim of updating and improving the knowledge base on crime among people with a local and non-native background.”
The report said:
“The risk of being registered as a perpetrator is greatest among Swedish-born persons with two non-domestically born parents, followed by foreign-born persons … The risk of being registered as a suspect is 2.5 times higher for foreign-born people than for people born in Sweden with two domestically born parents. For people born in Sweden with two non-native parents, the risk is just over three times as high.”
Sweden has the highest number of fatal shots per million inhabitants, according to a comparative study published by Brå on gunshots in Europe published in May. Sweden is also the only country in Europe where the number of fatal shots has increased since 2005. In 2020, 47 people were killed and 117 injured in 366 shots fired. For the year 2021, 42 people had already been killed by November and there were 290 shootings. Loud Brå:
“The number of homicides by firearms in Sweden is very high compared to other European countries with about 4 deaths per million inhabitants per year. The average for Europe is around 1.6 deaths per million inhabitants. None of the other countries included in the study recorded an increase comparable to that in Sweden. Instead, in most of these countries, a continuous decline in both the overall homicide rate and the number of homicides by firearms has been observed.”
In 2019, police estimated that the problem will continue for many years to come. “We expect this [shooting and extreme violence] in the most vulnerable areas to last five to ten years,” National Police Commissioner Anders Thornberg said in 2019. “Drugs are established in society and are bought by ordinary people. There is a market that the gangs will continue to fight over.”
“Research shows,” according to Brå’s report, “that the increase in lethal gun violence in Sweden is strongly related to criminal environments in vulnerable areas.”
The Swedish police have drawn the same conclusion: “Vulnerable areas are a center of organized crime,” the Swedish police recently wrote. “Criminals in vulnerable areas export crime to other parts of the country.”
The Swedish police define “vulnerable areas” as “geographically limited areas characterised by low socio-economic status and where the criminals have an impact on the local community”.
According to the latest report on vulnerable areas published by Swedish police on December 3, there are 61 such enclaves. Some of these areas are classified as “particularly vulnerable areas” that have even greater problems, according to the Swedish police. These are characterized by “systematic threats and acts of violence”, in particular against witnesses of crimes, almost impossible working conditions for the police and “parallel social structures, extremism such as systematic violations of religious freedom or strong fundamentalist influences and freedoms restricting human rights, persons who travel to take part in combat operations in conflict areas, [ and] a high concentration of criminals.” They can also be called no-go zones.
In Sweden, with a population of about 10 million, 556,000 people live in the 61 vulnerable areas, representing 5.4% of the Swedish population, according to the report “Facts about Change – A Report on the 61 Vulnerable Areas of Sweden”. Three out of four residents of the vulnerable areas have a foreign background; the most common countries of birth are Syria, Turkey, Somalia, Poland and Iraq. How many residents with a foreign background live in a vulnerable area varies, according to the report. In five of the country’s vulnerable areas, the proportion of residents with a foreign background is 90% or more: Rosengård in Malmö, Hovsjö in Södertälje, Fittja in Botkyrka, Rinkeby/Tensta in Stockholm and Hjällbo in Gothenburg. Sweden is home to about 2.5 million people with a foreign background; 16.2% of them, according to the report. live in vulnerable areas. In a recent press release, the Swedish police wrote:
“The main reason for the development of shootings and explosions is the situation in vulnerable areas where residents feel threatened by criminals, where there is open drug trafficking and where criminals have created parallel social structures in some places.”
Sweden’s new prime minister has announced that she will finally impose harsher penalties to deter the gangs.
“Even harsher penalties will be imposed for gang offenses,” Anderson announced in her first statement on government policy on Nov. 30.
“It should not be possible to silence witnesses with threats, but they should receive the support they need to do their duty safely. It will be easier to arrest people suspected of serious crimes… Those who commit several crimes should be punished more severely. Shortened sentences for juveniles aged 18 to 20 who commit serious crimes will be abolished. The penalties should better reflect the seriousness of the crimes, even if the perpetrators are still young.”
Shortened prison sentences for teens have been a major obstacle to dealing with the problems, as young people are among the predominant drivers of gang violence, which now even includes children.
In six out of seven police regions, gangs use 12-year-old children for their criminal activities, including selling drugs and transporting weapons. In the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg, police reportedly say hundreds of children are involved in criminal acts for gangs. According to Swedish intelligence chiefs, child recruitment has increased in recent years, and according to some experts, criminal gangs are now recruiting children from the age of eight.
In August, police in the city of Kristianstad arrested three teenagers, about 15 years old, for shooting and seriously injuring two men and a 60-year-old woman – who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “Unfortunately, this has become routine,” said an employee from the area. “If there have been shots fired during the night, there are usually more shots fired the next day … You’re afraid of getting into the line of fire.”