Soul searching in Sweden (1/2): Husby riots reveal profound failure

23 May 2013
Aftonbladet Stockholm

The Husby metro stop on May 22, 2013
The Husby metro stop on May 22, 2013

The riots that have broken out in recent days in the suburbs of Stockholm show that the many immigrants who live there have not been integrated. The fault lies with the government and the lack of political will to take action on education and employment.

The stone-throwing and torching of cars in Husby [northern suburbs of Stockholm] point to a policy fiasco. It took a long time to come to this. It will take a long time to set things right.

Husby is similar to many other problem suburbs around Stockholm. They all have a large population of immigrant origin, a high number of people on welfare, many young people dropping out of school, and a very high unemployment rate.

According to figures from the Swedish Employment Agency, 20 per cent of youths in Husby had no work at all in 2010. One in five youths aged between 16 and 19 was unemployed or not in education. On paper, they did nothing.

But man is made to create things to do, and these young people – boys for the most part – found new things to keep them busy. For example, taking up positions on the bridges and throwing stones at police cars, or burning down the neighbour's car. They certainly do not claim that creating mayhem and smashing things is better than doing nothing, but it is nevertheless what they do, and that is the problem.

Ghettoisation of Husby

Of the four youths arrested so far [May 22] following the riots in Husby, the oldest is 18. All but one already have criminal records, including the 15-year-old, who just a short while ago became old enough to be criminally liable for his actions [the age of criminal responsibility is 15 in Sweden].

You do not need to have graduated from a top university to grasp that we are in the midst of a far-reaching political fiasco here.

The problem arises in part from ghettoisation. Of the 12,000 inhabitants of Husby, a little more than 60 per cent were born outside of Sweden. If we add those who were born in Sweden but whose parents were both born abroad, this proportion rises to 85 per cent.

The problem also comes from the school. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called on May 21 for more money for the national education system. This is good news, but perhaps should have been done a long time ago. When one high school student in five does not go to school, it’s the local teaching that has failed.

The problem also comes from employment, the primary vector of integration. It is there where the language is mastered, networks are created, money is earned.

Education is key

The suburbs home to so many immigrants simply require an immense amount of attention, which policymakers have not given them.

This lack of management is not a recent phenomenon, unfortunately, and policymakers have closed their eyes to the problem for a while. For a long time, you could not even say that a district that had no less than 114 nationalities, needed more resources and more attention than neighbourhoods which host significantly less. Instead, the immigrant-heavy suburbs were described as exotic destinations where you could buy vegetables at a good price.

The problem will not be solved overnight. Substantial resources will have to pumped into education, starting with kindergartens.

When you start to go off the rails as a teenager, as was true for those who have been taken in for questioning by police, the chances of getting back on the right track are slim. When your parents and the parents of your friends are unemployed, it may seem perfectly natural not to work. When school seems like a foreign country, it is easy to leave it.

In Husby the rate of labour force participation hovers around 40 per cent, against 65 per cent for Sweden as a whole. It is this first figure that reveals the true evil – or rather the worst of all evils.

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