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MALMÖ

Rosengård: hardship and hope

For many, the Rosengård area of Malmö has become a symbol of segregation, deprivation and unrest. Four months after disturbances there gained international attention, Genevieve Worrell finds real problems remain, but also discovers a will to turn the situation around.

Dark silhouettes of teenagers standing against the backdrop of a blazing fire, while firefighters wait by their vehicles for police protection. For several days in April, it was images such as these that illustrated the disturbances in Rosengård, a sprawling immigrant-dominated housing estate in Malmö.

For many, the images were reminiscent of recent riots in the suburbs of Paris and the ghettos of nearby Denmark. But how far does the reality of Rosengård chime with the impression given – particularly outside Sweden – that the area is a centre of deprivation, segregation and unrest?

Arriving in Herrgården, the area within Rosengård at the centre of the disturbances, I expected to see the usual signs of a ghetto. But the yellow-brick-buildings built in the mid-1960’s, were not sub-standard housing. The sidewalks and surrounding grounds were well kept and the streets were clean.

I came across five teenage boys standing outside a convenience store. Asked what the situation was like three months after the disturbances, one answered promptly: “It’s got better here,” and the others nod in agreement. The area had become quieter over recent months, they said.

Many locals are frustrated at the way the problems of Rosengård have been portrayed in the media. The area’s earlier reputation as a deprived district meant that disturbances such as those in April were blown out of proportion.

“If it’s Rosengård it’s big news,” sighs Andreas Konstantinides, a prominent Social Democratic politician in Rosengård. Similar incidents in other areas don’t get the same attention, he argues.

Yet behind the neat exterior and despite the media exaggeration of the area’s problems, nobody denies that so-called social exclusion in Rosengård is real and damaging.

Behind the catch-all term ‘social exclusion’ are the more concrete issues of segregation, unemployment and poor living conditions.

97 percent of people living in Herrgården are foreign-born or have two foreign-born parents. In Rosengård as a whole, the figure is 85 percent. Kosovans form the largest immigrant group, followed by Iraqis.

Jobs are thin on the ground: 15 percent of people between 20 and 64 were employed last year in Herrgården, while the figure was 37 percent for the whole of Rosengård.

Teenagers have been dealt much of the blame for this year’s disturbances. In 2006, 42 percent of Herrgården residents and 30 percent of residents of Rosengård were under the age of 16, while in Malmö as a whole the figure was just 16 percent.

A 17-year-old Kosovo Albanian girl I spoke to had watched a garbage shed burning from her window. She confirmed that the culprits were teenagers, adding, “I know who they are. They wanted to show [the police] who controlled the area”.

That some young people feel a lack of control over their lives is perhaps unsurprising, given the living conditions many of them face in Herrgården. Overcrowding is perhaps the most acute aspect of this problem.

“Lots of people have come here in the last 5 years,” says Konstantinides.

“They go to Rosengård, where they stay with relatives and friends. Thanks to this, there might be five to six people in a one-room apartment.”

Bad enough for adults, these conditions can be particularly hard on youngsters. Konstaninides argues that overcrowding forces children and young people out onto the streets:

“This is why children have nothing to do: there’s no space,” he says.

Jobs, though, remain the most pressing concern:

The official Swedish unemployment rate for people aged between 16 and 24 years is about 11 percent, but unemployment among youths born abroad is nearly double as high as it is among youths from Sweden.

Konstantinides is convinced of the importance of the issue:

“People in Rosengård need jobs,” he says.

Jobs are not only important for financial reasons, he argues, but also because children need to see their parents going to work. A reduction in the amount paid out in unemployment benefits might also allow more money to be spent on the city’s public services, Konstantinides says.

Some steps are being made to improve the employment situation. A new project to find jobs in Denmark for people in Rosengård has led to the employment of 25 residents in the past two months. Konstantinides believes that many more can find employment in Denmark, due to that country’s great need for extra labour.

Programmes such as this have their work cut out, particularly when it comes to youth unemployment. Very few of the boys I spoke to had got summer jobs. One said he had applied but been turned down, another boy said in jest that he didn’t want a job. The rest mumbled that there simply were no jobs to apply for.

Getting a job will never be easy for some young people. As an 18-year old girl from Ghana pointed out, some of the local boys find it particularly tough to escape the stigma of a misspent youth. “Many of them have a police record,” she claimed. Girls, she said, find it a easier.

Konstantinides argues that the extent of youth crime should not be exaggerated. There are 8,000 children in Rosengård, but only 50-65 are known by the police, he says.

Yet while the vast majority of young people in the area are well-behaved, the link between poor housing and unemployment on the one hand and crime on the other is inescapable.

Irene Malmberg, of the Ethnic Relations Division of the Department of Education in Malmö, says: “Conflict, aggression, hostility, a need to hit back, and a lack of solidarity, result when people are excluded from ordinary society. There is no reason to feel solidarity with a society that excludes you.”

Alleviating unemployment and overcrowding will therefore be crucial to rejuvenating the area and preventing a repeat of April’s disturbances, campaigners argue.

Some projects are already making a difference. A programme to increase cooperation between schools, social services and the police is intended to help catch youngsters who risk getting into trouble.

Public schools in Rosengård offer after-school homework assistance, something that Konstantinides hopes will boost the performance of children living in crowded homes. He would also like to see more opportunities for youths to get involved in sports activities.

Local politicians and activists hope that projects like this, through giving young people faith in the future, will help ease some of the area’s troubles. Irene Malmberg stresses the need to encourage optimism among the city’s young:

“You can achieve what you want to do. You must dare to dream and to make it happen.”

Genevieve Worrell

SHOOTINGS

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police

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In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”

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