Sweden Tries To Get A Handle On Riots
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Sweden has largely avoided the recent economic troubles experienced in much of Europe, but tensions over joblessness, inequality and immigration have been building. And over the past few days, riots have erupted in Sweden's main cities, mostly in immigrant neighborhoods. Things appear to be calming down as of this morning and to learn more we're joined from Stockholm by Alistair Scrutton. He's the bureau chief in that city for the Reuters News Agency. Alistair, good morning.
ALISTAIR SCRUTTON: Good morning.
GREENE: So who has actually been rioting and how did this all start?
SCRUTTON: It started a week ago when a 69-year-old immigrant was shot dead by police. The circumstances around it are still a bit unclear, but local inhabitants, mainly from this poor immigrant suburb of Stockholm, accused the police of brutality and insensitivity. That caused a riot on Sunday night and then it kind of spiraled over the week, really surprising a lot of Swedes who really haven't seen these kind of disturbances before.
And recently, just the last couple of nights, it seems now to have calmed down quite a bit. In terms of who the rioters are, what we are seeing is mainly young people in marginalized suburbs, small groups of 50, 60 people who will be running around setting cars ablaze, stoning police. All the evidence so far seems to be kind of roughly in the kind of ages from 16 years old to kind of mid-twenties, unemployed, and often second generation young immigrants.
GREENE: So perhaps frustrations that have been sort of boiling there, now boiling over it sounds like. Have the police said anything about why they shot and killed this elderly person?
SCRUTTON: They basically say that there's an investigation into it. So they won't really make any comments on to why the person was shot. And there are different stories about what actually happened. Obviously the family says that this guy was not aggressive and that the police stormed into his flat and he was waving a knife and they shot him. His wife was apparently in the flat at the time.
The general consensus - there seems to be some kind of mistake made in all this. But it's very unclear and the police won't comment whilst there's an investigation going into it. Community groups do say that the police were just heavy-handed in what they did.
GREENE: There have been other countries in Europe - I'm thinking Britain in 2011 and France earlier in 2005 - where tensions over immigration have kind of boiled over in violence. Is that what we're seeing? Is Sweden sort of joining that club here?
SCRUTTON: Yes. It seems so. Around about 15 percent of Sweden's population is foreign born. A lot of that is because Sweden has some of the most liberal asylum policies in Europe. There's thousands of Iraqis, Somalians, Afghans - 20 years ago a lot of people from the Balkan wars all arrived here, and because of that policy, the number of asylum seekers actually has risen to record levels in 2012.
So Sweden has in many ways joined the ranks of other European countries in terms of a lot of kind of large scale immigration. That seems, as reflected in the riots, to have caused social tensions, a feeling that immigrant communities are marginalized, feeling that police are heavy-handed towards those immigrants. And there's been a lot of debate in Sweden about the role of the police and whether there is insensitivity and even racism on the part of the police force here.
GREENE: All right. As you say, though, so far it looks like the violence has calmed down as of now. Alistair Scrutton is the Stockholm bureau chief for the Reuters News Agency. Thanks so much for talking to us.
SCRUTTON: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.