Over the course of eight days in May, three young men were shot dead in a small neighborhood in the city of Örebro, part of a wave of gang violence that spread from big cities to small towns in Sweden and is heightening voter anxiety ahead of elections next month. The murders took place in Varberga, a collection of low brick houses about three kilometers from Örebro’s picturesque city center in Central Sweden. The area is home to around 3,300 people, many of them of Christian Syrian origin.
It is one of 61 areas in Sweden, all with a high proportion of immigrants, listed by the police as risk areas for increasing gang violence. The government says that gang crime, which is driven by the drug trade, is linked to poor integration of Sweden’s large immigrant community. “I’ve lived all over Örebro and I loved this area before, but now I think I might have to get out of here,” says Asa Ahlgren, 65, a retired social worker.
Ahlgren is friends with the family of the first victim, a 30-year-old man from the Syrian community, and her apartment overlooks the parking lot where he was killed. Police have not named the victim but say he was not previously known in connection with any crime.
Police said the three execution-style killings in Örebro – home to around 130,000 people – appear to be gang-related but no suspects have been arrested. It declined to provide further details, citing the ongoing investigations. Gang crime is nothing new to Sweden.
A report last year by the Crime Prevention Council showed that of 22 European countries with comparable data, only Croatia had more firearms per capita over the past four years, a stark contrast to two decades ago when Sweden was at the bottom. . While gun violence used to be mostly confined to the immigrant-dominated suburbs of Sweden’s three largest cities – Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö – smaller towns have increasingly borne the brunt in recent months.
So far this year, 44 people have been shot dead in Sweden, almost all in connection with suspected gang crime, according to the police. That compares to 46 for all of 2021. And more than half of the shootings this year have occurred outside the three major cities — compared to an average of around 35 percent in recent years — as many gangs have branched out across the country.
Mattias Forssten, superintendent of the Örebro Police, says that the number of gangs in town has risen to between 10 and 15 and that they have become much more violent. Most of them have some connection to criminal groups in the big cities, he said. “Where maybe 10 years ago they were beating someone, then they switched to shooting each other in the legs. Now they shoot each other in the head,” Forssten said, adding that the violence was often caused by turf wars over drug sales. .
As the violence has spread, it has risen to the top of voters’ concerns for the first time since such polling began, with 41% saying crime was their biggest concern according to a report this year from Gothenburg University’s Society, Opinion and Media Institute . That poses a problem for Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats, who are seeking a third consecutive term in the September 11 election.
Despite tougher gun control laws and additional resources for policing, the Social Democrats have been unable to stem the rise in gang crime during their eight years in power. – I haven’t completely decided yet, but I’m leaning towards not voting for the Social Democrats for the first time in a very long time, says Niklas Andersson, 49, a construction worker in Örebro. “I think we may need new ideas to stop the gangs. We’ve been too naive.”
The center-left coalition – consisting of the Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Left Party and the Center Party – is in polls ahead of the election tied with the center block consisting of the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Sweden Democrats. But most voters see the opposition Moderates as the best policy for law and order, while at the same time favoring the far-right nationalist Sweden Democrats’ hard line against immigration, according to a Novus survey in June.
“Violence and crime are really the government’s weak point,” says Nicholas Aylott, associate professor of political science at Södertorn University. RISING DEATH RATE
The police cite social exclusion, poor integration, a growing gap between rich and poor and increasing drug use as the root causes behind the increase in violence. The centre-left and centre-right blocs, meanwhile, are competing to propose tougher measures to tackle the gangs.
– What has happened in the last 20 years is that Sweden has seen organized crime establish itself in a way that it was not before, closely associated with the drug trade, says Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, a social democrat, to Reuters. The government has introduced or proposed a number of new measures, such as hiring more police officers, making it easier to electronically monitor suspected criminals and tougher penalties for violent crimes and gun possession. The opposition wants more.
The Sweden Democrats have struck a chord with voters by blaming the problems on immigration and the failure to integrate many of the 2 million “new Swedes” who have arrived in the past two decades. They blame former and current prime ministers – such as former right-wing leader Fredrik Reinfeldt and Magdalena Andersson in the Social Democrats – for what they call irresponsible immigration policy.
“Fredrik Reinfeldt brought them here, Magdalena Andersson gave them benefits and the Sweden Democrats will lock them up and kick them out of the country,” said Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson in a recent speech. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson admitted this spring that Sweden has failed to integrate the enormous number of immigrants it has taken in over the past two decades and that this has led to parallel societies and gang violence.
Approximately 20% of Sweden’s 10.5 million inhabitants were born abroad, according to government statistics, with Syrians representing the largest single group. In addition to sending asylum seekers convicted of crimes back to their home countries, the Sweden Democrats want a broad investment in sending immigrants back, both by reducing financial benefits and encouraging them to leave.
In Varberga, Asa Ahlgren is still counting the costs of the violence that shocked the neighborhood. “He was getting married next month,” she said, looking at the drying flowers that mark the spot where the first victim was killed. “It’s such a tragedy.”
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)