Are there places in Sweden too dangerous for emergency services? A look at 'no-go zones'
The story below is commentary by Sebastian Gorka.
“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”
It was a moment that brought the spotlight to Sweden and it's immigration policies, when President Donald Trump referred to a report with a documentary film maker who questioned whether Sweden's immigration policy during the refugee crisis in 2015 led to increased crime rates in the Nordic country.
I recently traveled to some of the areas that have experienced these issues to ask what they think the problem is, and how it's changing their discussion on immigration policy.
We began our journey in Stockholm, a bustling capitol city in the frosted northern region of the country.
But in the suburbs of this serene beauty lies a dark story: one of violence.
Rinkeby is one of those areas - known by some as a crime-heavy hot spot with a concentrated immigrant population.
Sadly, the day we arrived, at a pizza shop in the town square, a young man was shot in the head and died on a Monday evening. This is what is associated with this neighborhood - violence escalating and unfortunately a sense of unease and danger for those who live hear or visit.
“Today, so much problem for weapon," one resident told us.
People we spoke with said the violence is largely caused by young men with no jobs, and too much idle time.
“It’s all about the teenagers – who kill each other. that’s a sad story." another Swede living in Rinkeby explained.
"No-go zone" is a term that some in the media have used to label this area.
Reports claim in recent years ambulance services and firefighters found themselves at a higher risk of attacks when servicing the area.
However, some Swedes dispute this claim.
While we were there, all was quiet - though police units were on scene to keep the peace after the execution-style killing.
Retired police officers who agreed to speak on condition we don't reveal their identity argue that point.
“It’s not a war area, but there’s a lot of things going on under the surface," one said.
He points to gang violence as the problem.
Another officer pointed to the change of weapon choice: "this is very unusual in Sweden. 20 years ago – explosives, hand grenades, of course there were some cases, but they were very few.”
The advice they'd give to themselves 20 years ago: "A country must have immigration – we can’t live separated from the world. There has to be immigration. But there has to be a stricter control of the immigration."
The violence has been connected to immigration by some. But others argue it has nothing to do with the change of the composition of the country.
Julia Kronlid, Vice Chairman of the Sweden Democrats, believes the influx of refugees in the past few years has strained the country's resources.
“We saw in 2015, we had the 160k ppl searching for asylum and yet we couldn’t handle the situation," she said.
"The worst-case scenarios I think is we have more extreme groups and people searching their trust in more extreme groups."
While visiting the country, there seemed to be a lack of agreement. For some people the rising crime is just a function of unemployed young men out of work. For other people - it is very strongly connected to the massive increase in immigration. To the fact that Sweden has a five-fold greater number of inidividuals who went to fight for ISIS in the Middle Ease than Germany for example, which is a much larger country.
On Queen Street in Stockholm, people told me they feel safe, able to walk around an area that just last year saw a terror attack by a young man who was denied asylum in the country and was to be deported.
He drove down the busy street, crashing into a store, killing five people in the attack.
“We have started to see the worst-case scenario, terror attacks. That is what we are mostly afraid of. Thefts and a little bit of robbery and things we can survive, but if people get scared for terrorists, that is real serious” the retired officer said.
Police who believe the changing landscape has led to such a moment hope their concerns can be openly and freely discussed, claiming “if you say anything that’s politically incorrect then you’re in very very deep water,” and will be labeled a racist.
Our travels also took us to Malmö - a city a few hundred miles Southwest of Stockholm.
The third largest city in the country is also considered a melting pot of people - with more than 40 percent of the population hailing from a non-Swedish background.
While the country in the past has been associated with stability, peace, and economic success - that story has changed of late.
“It’s not out of control. We are working with this problem. it’s not out of control in any way," said Glen Sjögren, who has been patrolling the streets here for 41 years.
He says the problem stems from the youth getting involved in gang and drug violence.
"I, I, I think it's just the increase of violence in the streets. It's uh, it's a uh, it's worse. It's, uh, guns. For, 20 years ago, it was knives. Now it's guns. And people really are killed. Young people."
His solution: "Get them off the street. That's the main issue."
People who live in the higher-crime populated areas - no-go zones - speak about political correctness when describing the issue of immigration.
"The problem is not the people. The problem is the political," one resident said.
"They are very naiive. They think a lot of culture, it’s only positive. But it’s not positive. It create a lot of identity problem with the people who came here."
Others believe the connection is clear.
"Just if you look at the suburb areas, the places they call the no-go zones, I mean it’s very different now than from 5 years ago I would say," a Stockholm resident explained.
This is an election year in Sweden. Will increased gang crime and potential rise of terror cells in their country cause Swedes and other Western nations to change their government leadership in 2018?