News / Europe

    After Spate of Sexual Assaults, Swedish City Patrols Itself

    Called ‘night walkers’ in Swedish, civilian security groups patrol the streets after at least eight sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults on women and girls here in the past month, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
    Called ‘night walkers’ in Swedish, civilian security groups patrol the streets after at least eight sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults on women and girls here in the past month, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
    Heather Murdock

    In Swedish, they are called the “nattvandrare” or the “night walkers.”
     
    Wearing orange vests and black skull caps, men and women march through the streets in groups of five or eight on Saturday night, eyes peeled for potential sexual assaults. In the past month, there have been at least eight.
     
    The perpetrators are unknown, but reports that some assailants had “foreign accents” have prompted fears and media reports that say refugees or other migrants could be responsible.
     
    On Saturday, cities across the world shut off lights for Earth Hour, a global environmental awareness campaign, but here in this remote city of about 45,000, steadily falling snow glistened in lit street lamps throughout the night. And while night walkers patrolled, small groups of party goers laughed as they slid between bars, restaurants and clubs until well after midnight.

    A city of around 45,000 people, residents of Ostersund, Sweden have rarely expressed anti-immigrant sentiment prior to recent attacks, which some media houses say are blamed on migrants, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
    A city of around 45,000 people, residents of Ostersund, Sweden have rarely expressed anti-immigrant sentiment prior to recent attacks, which some media houses say are blamed on migrants, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)

    Yet for some local women, civilian security patrols and bright lights are enough to make them feel safe.

    “It feels horrible not to have control over the situation,” says Therese Johansson, a 19-year-old aspiring interior designer, out shopping Saturday afternoon. “It just came out of nowhere.”
     
    For some Swedish people, the idea that desperate people who risked their lives to come to Sweden would turn on the population is hard to swallow. But some locals say if authorities do know who is responsible, they have not released the information.
     
    “Many people say it's people that have come here from other countries,” says Emma Eurenius, a 19-year-old math student shopping for makeup on the city’s main street.  “But I don’t want to believe that.”
     
    However, other Ostersund residents say they do believe the violence is a result of the European refugee crisis, where more than 1 million people arrived in Europe last year alone.  
     

    Christer Jonsson is a member of the Sweden Democrats, a staunchly anti-immigration party that has been gaining support over the past year, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
    Christer Jonsson is a member of the Sweden Democrats, a staunchly anti-immigration party that has been gaining support over the past year, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)

    “Many people come from many countries and we don’t know what they have in their luggage,” says Christer Jonsson, a member of the Sweden Democrats, a staunchly anti-immigration party that has been gaining support over the past year. “I think it’s a big problem in the future.
     
    Patrols With a Message
     
    As the night walkers patrol Ostersund, some groups have messages that reflect Sweden’s complex political shifts as the refugee crisis continues to grow.
     
    On Friday night, a group wearing Red Cross jackets included refugees among the walkers, delivering the message that newcomers are equally concerned about safety. Additionally, they wanted to simply take the opportunity to be friendly.
     
    “The refugees wanted to show that they are kindly and good,” says Irene Fregelin, a Red Cross volunteer who was on patrol. Before the attacks, she adds, anti-refugee sentiment was rarely expressed in Ostersund.
     
    “Some people liked us and said ‘Hey, you are good people,’” explains 28-year old Ghais, who was a dentist before he fled Syria to avoid being forced to fight in the brutal civil war. “Some didn’t answer.”
     
    The “Nordic Resistance,” a group that calls Hitler’s Mein Kampf a "best seller," also posted pictures of supporters in black coats patrolling the town in recent weeks. The group says despite the fact that the police say they don’t know who was behind the attacks, a report by British newspaper Daily Mail claims it was immigrants.
     
    “The Swedish police have not communicated this because it would prompt an outcry in Swedish politically correct media, which is more concerned about mass immigration than Swedish women's security,” reads an article on its website about the patrols.
     

    Despite police warnings that women should not go out alone at night for safety, groups of party goers slide in the snow from restaurants to bars to clubs late into Saturday night as the night walkers patrol, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)
    Despite police warnings that women should not go out alone at night for safety, groups of party goers slide in the snow from restaurants to bars to clubs late into Saturday night as the night walkers patrol, Ostersund, Sweden, March 19, 2016. (Heather Murdock/VOA)

    Sweden’s Role
     
    If the United States took in the same percent of its population of refugees in 2015, it would have accepted more than 5 million people.
     
    Sweden accepted nearly 163,000 asylum applications in 2015, most in the last few months of the year.  The country now spends six times what it did five years ago on caring for people fleeing wars and poverty mostly in the Middle East and Africa.  
     
    As is common in mass migration situations, right-wing anti-immigrant parties have grown increasingly popular in Sweden over the past year.
     
    The Swedish government recently announced it will extend increased internal border controls until April 8, saying, "Europe has not managed to maintain its external borders. Until we see a joint European solution, Sweden will be forced to use short-term national measures.”
     
    Late last week, the European Union reached an agreement with Turkey that it hopes will lessen the pressure by arranging to send refugees back to Turkey from Greece if they don’t apply for asylum or are rejected. In exchange, Turkey is expected to receive billions of dollars and political concessions.
     
    The plan is fraught with challenges, like overcoming local corruption in Turkey, creating a new massive bureaucracy and persuading people who risked their lives and spent all of their money to get to Greece to simply go back.
     
    Here in Ostersund, some locals say something needs to be done before fear-mongering politics grow stronger.
     
    “Most people do not accept what they do,” says Fregelin, the Red Cross volunteer. “But they get bigger and bigger, and that makes us scared.”

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora