Asylum seeker held 18 months on remand

Mehdi Kadirou, a rejected asylum seeker, has been kept locked up for 18 months in an Uppsala cell while the police and migration authorities decide where to return him, according to a report in the local Upsala Nya Tidning newspaper.

“I have not come across another case of a person being held in custody for so long,” said Tobias Iwarsson, duty officer at Uppsala remand prison, to the newspaper.

Kadirou’s eighteen months on remand has so far cost the penal system 1.2 million kronor ($ 161,000) and is considerably longer than average.

The 29-year-old, who claims to come from Algeria – a country he left as a 13-year-old, describes his situation as “torture-like”.

“You can’t imagine the nightmare in which I am living. Second after second locked up like an animal,” Mehdi Kadirou told the newspaper.

Kadirou came to Sweden in 2007 and applied for asylum. The same year he stole a jacket from a store after threatening staff with a pair of scissors. He was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment and then deportation.

After serving his sentence for the robbery, Mehdi Kadirou’s problems began.

The Algerian embassy in Stockholm declared itself unwilling to get involved in his case. He is unable to prove his identity as since fleeing the north African country he claims that he has lived on the streets and has never possessed any identity papers.

The Swedish police are working to determine his identity, a process which will be resumed in two months time and could in theory continually indefinitely, the newspaper writes.

According to Swedish law a person may not be held remanded in custody for a period longer than two months unless there are “extreme circumstances”.

Tobias Iwarsson is critical that Mehdi Kadirou remains in his care pending the completion of the investigation.

“It would be one thing if he were violent, but this case concerns a diligent person,” Iwarsson said.

Kadirou’s legal counsel, Helena Jonsson, has submitted a request for her client to be transferred to one of the Migration Board’s detention centres during the course of the police investigation but the application has been rejected.

A psychiatrist that has met Mehdi Kadirou in custody has concluded that the long periods of solitary confinement have caused the onset of depression and delusional behaviour.

The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture under the Council of Europe visited Sweden’s prisons and remand prisons in 2009. The subsequent report noted that Sweden had on previous occasions been urged to desist from holding people for extended periods on remand.

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INTERVIEW: ‘It’s a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated’

Michael Lindgren, the comedian and producer behind the new Swedish TV quiz show Invandrare för Svenskar, or "Immigrants for Swedes', tells The Local how the seemingly superficial game show is actually very serious indeed.

INTERVIEW: 'It's a way to jokingly show that Sweden is very segregated'

SVT’s new gameshow Invandrare för Svenskar (IFS) began with a simple image on a computer. 

“I wanted to do something to show the simple fact that the category of invandrare [immigrant] is a really stupid category,” says Michael Lindgren, the co-founder of the Swedish comedy group Grotesco, and creator of Invandare för Svenskar

“I was just playing around with pictures of people with different values and professions and personalities to like, show the multitude of humanity, and then I placed an ethnic Swede in the middle and I built a block of people with different backgrounds around that blonde person. and I was thinking it would be fun to put a Swede in the minority.” 

It was only when a friend pointed out that the image he had made looked like the famous quiz game Hollywood Squares, a big 1980s hit in Sweden as Prat i kvadrat, that the idea to turn the image into a game show came about. 

Shortly afterwards, he contacted the show’s host, the comedian Ahmed Berhan, and began working with him and some of the other celebrities with immigrant backgrounds on the concept. 

The panelists on Invandrare för Svenskar.

Critics in Sweden are divided over the new gameshow, in which ordinary Swedes have to guess whether celebrity immigrants are lying or telling the truth about their home cultures. 

Karolina Fjellborg, at Aftonbladet, called it a “potential flop”, which was “forced and painfully shallow”. 

“And yet her paper, Aftonbladet, has written about it several times!” Lindgren exclaims when I mention this.  “Some people think it’s too stupid and glossy. It’s had rave reviews and very critical reviews, which I think is perfect.” 

He rejects the charge that the show treats a serious subject in too frivolous a way. 

“I’m an entertainer. I work in comedy. Of course, it’s superficial,” he says. “It’s a glossy game show on the surface, but underneath it’s a way to jokingly address the fact that we still think in these categories, that Sweden is a very segregated society, and we need to address that with more honesty.”

“The other point is that the idea of ‘immigrants’ as a group is absurd. It’s not a homogenous group. I think Swedes need to be faced with that, that the category is false. ‘Immigrants’ is useful as a statistical category, meaning people who actually migrated here. Most panelists in the show are born in Sweden, but Swedes tend to see them as immigrants anyway. For how many generations?”

He says his favourite moments in the show come when the contestants are nervous that they might give an answer that reveals them as prejudiced, and you can feel a slight tension, or the few moments when they do make an embarrassing mistake. 

Even though the atmosphere is deliberately kept as warm and light-hearted as possible, it’s these flashes of awkwardness, he feels, that reveal how uncomfortable many people in Sweden are about ethnic and cultural differences. 

It’s clearly something he thinks about a lot. Unlike immigration to countries like the UK or France, which are the result of long histories of empire, he argues, the immigration to Sweden, at least since the 1970s, has been driven by a sense of Lutheran guilt at the wealth the country amassed as a result of remaining neutral in the Second World War. 

Immigration, he argues, happened too quickly for the ordinary Swedish population to really understand the cultures of those arriving. 

Michael Lindgren, founder of ”IFS-invandrare för svenskar”. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
“I like to see Sweden as a little bit like The Shire in The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “It is located up in the corner of the map, peaceful and quite, with a very homogenous, old, peasant population. Historically shielded from the big world outside. Immigration is fairly new to Sweden, from outside Europe basically from the seventies onward, that is just fifty years ago. In what was in large part a political project from above.”
“And there is a discrepancy, because the majority population is still that old peasant population, and we didn’t learn a lot about the people coming here. We’re polite and friendly, but culturally very reserved, and I think that’s also about the climate, we don’t intermingle a lot. We don’t invite people into our homes easily.” 

According to Lindgren, the reception of the show has been great. Some of the show’s panel have a big following among Swedes with immigrant backgrounds, meaning it is drawing a demographic to Sweden’s public broadcaster that it normally struggles to reach. 

“The ambition is that the primary audience for this show is Swedes with mixed backgrounds, Swedes with a background in another country,” he says. “It’s a very tough demographic to reach. It’s a demographic that simply doesn’t watch public service, because it’s usually not made for them, and they seem to really enjoy it.” 

He has plans for the next series to include short factual segments. 

“I’m not saying I’m gonna make it serious. It’s supposed to be fun and jokey and entertaining and light, and I’m not going to change it in its core,” he says. “But I think it would add to the entertainment and variety to pause maybe twice in the show and say ‘this is actually true’, just stay at a point of discussion for 30 seconds, and maybe have a graphic to back it up.”