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

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border From Mexico

    In remote areas of the Sonoran Desert, which straddles the US-Mexico, thousands of migrants face arid desolation

    Video Recycling is Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    It's an ancient craft that stretches back millennia - but despite Lebanon’s trash crisis providing a lifeline, remaining glass blowers face an uncertain future

    Meet the Alleged Killer of Cambodia’s Kem Ley

    What little is known about former soldier, troublesome Buddhist monk and indebted gambler, raises more questions than answers

    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.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora