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Sweden Becomes the New Poster Country for the U.S. Immigration Debate

Posted on Feb 21, 2017

  Video footage showed the aftermath of riots in Rinkeby, Sweden. (Screen shot via Wall Street Journal)

It has been three days since President Trump baffled reporters by referring to an unnamed terrorist incident in Sweden. The media and the Swedish government were quick to debunk the idea that any attack had occurred.

But Trump’s remarks, just on the verge of disappearing from public discourse, are gaining attention again. Early Tuesday, news spread of riots that had broken out overnight in a Swedish suburb inhabited by a large immigrant population. The New York Times explained:

About 20 to 30 masked men threw stones and other objects at police officers in the suburb, Rinkeby, after the police arrested a man on suspicion of dealing drugs. A police officer fired a warning shot, but the disturbances continued for several more hours, stretching into early Tuesday morning. A photojournalist was injured in the clashes.

The episode drew scrutiny worldwide because of Mr. Trump’s assertions—based on a Fox News segment—that Sweden had experienced a surge in crime and violence as a result of taking in large numbers of refugees. Mr. Trump’s comments were greeted with anger in Sweden, the latest example of strong criticism by the American president antagonizing friendly countries, including neighbors like Mexico and allies like Australia and the European Union.

This isn’t the first time Rinkeby has experienced riots—the suburb was home to similar outbursts in 2010 and 2013. It’s not yet clear why the most recent arrest spurred riots.

Online, many latched on to the outbreak of violence as proof that Sweden has a problem with violent immigrants, and that Trump was “right.”

While the Rinkeby riots are drawing media attention, one aspect of this sudden focus on Sweden’s immigration policy is being lost in the shuffle—that President Trump’s initial remarks about the country, given at a rally last Saturday, were found to be false.

And despite the fact that no terrorist incident had occurred in Sweden last Friday night, as Trump purported, mainstream media outlets continued to give the remarks attention.

On Monday, Fox News published an article examining the “migrant crime wave” that has recently hit Sweden. The source of the article was a single Facebook post by Peter Springare, a Swedish police investigator, who was later investigated for inciting a hate crime because of the post.

The Fox News article, written by Cody Derespina, stated:

Trump’s comments during a Florida campaign rally on Saturday – which some took as a misstatement about a supposed terror attack – dovetail with what Springare has been seeing during a typical week in Orebro, Sweden. Five rapes, three assaults, a pair of extortions, blackmail, an attempted murder, violence against police and a robbery made up Springare’s caseload for a five-day period earlier this month, according to a Feb. 3 Facebook post he wrote. The suspects were all from Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Turkey – save for one Swedish man nabbed in a drug-related case.

Derespina also attempted to plant the seed of a correlation between a recent bout of violence in the Swedish city of Malmo and Malmo’s immigrant population. “About 32 percent of Malmo’s occupants are migrants, although it is not clear what role migrants play in the crime wave,” the article stated.

Derespina’s rhetoric has become amplified in the wake of Rinkeby’s overnight violence. These riots, however, most likely are a stand-alone incident if considered statistically.

There is “no evidence to suggest that new waves of immigration has lead to increased crime,” according to Henrik Selin, a political scientist and the deputy director of the Swedish Institute, which promotes Sweden around the world.

The Chicago Tribune provided even more evidence:

In 2015, when the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and Asia was highest, Sweden took in the greatest number per capita. By and large, integration has been a success story there, save for incidents like Monday night’s, which have taken place in highly segregated neighborhoods.

The newspaper Dagens Nyheter analyzed crime statistics between October 2015 and January 2016 and came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only 1 percent of all incidents. That has done little to assuage the perceptions, even among Swedes, that foreigners are culpable for the crime that does happen. A Pew Research Center study conducted in early 2016 indicated that 46 percent of Swedes believed that “refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups.”

Fox News isn’t the only mainstream media outlet continuing to analyze Trump’s false statement. CNN has been devoting daily airtime to the topic—the network’s Don Lemon conducted an interview with the source of Trump’s Sweden remarks; CNN articles have examined Trump’s explanation; and even CNN Money has reported on the subject.

Last night’s riots in Sweden, and the flurry of analysis that followed from both sides of the political spectrum, are par for the course in the current debate over American immigration policy. Considering that Trump just released a new set controversial immigration policies, exhaustive analysis of other countries’ migrant crises—or lack thereof—is unlikely to die down anytime soon.

—Posted by Emma Niles.

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