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IMMIGRATION

Police chief fed up over ‘jailed’ asylum seekers

The increasing number of rejected asylum seekers being housed in a local jail along with drunks and suspected criminals has prompted the chief of police in Gothenburg to consider reporting himself to Sweden’s Parliamentary Ombudsman (Justitieombudsmännen – JO).

Police chief fed up over 'jailed' asylum seekers
Asylum seekers are housed at the Gothenburg police station on Aminogatan

“I’m the one who is ultimately responsible for this and I’m just waiting for something to go horribly wrong,” Gothenburg police chief Lars Klevensparr told Sveriges Radio (SR) on Tuesday.

“I’ve spoken with the Prison and Probation Service (Kriminalvården) and the Migration Board (Migrationsverket) and no one wants to take responsibility for this.”

The comments come on in the wake of a report by the Göteborgs-Posten (GP) newspaper detailing the difficult conditions facing some refugees who have had their asylum claims rejected.

According to the newspaper, refugees who behave violently or are suicidal can find themselves isolated in local jails for weeks on end.

One suicide-prone man has been locked up for 25 days in a cell in a Gothenburg-area jail with nothing but a mattress and a single ceiling lamp, despite regulations stipulating that people be held in such cells for no more than 96 hours.

Since 2001, the Migration Board has housed violent or suicidal asylum seekers awaiting deportation in detention centres used to house suspected criminals.

But a shortage of spots in nearby detention centres has resulted in several asylum seekers being sent instead to the jail at the local Gothenburg police station, which is normally used as a short-term holding facility for people placed under arrest while they await a formal remand request from a prosecutor.

Since last autumn, more than ten asylum seekers have been forced to undergo extensive stays at the local jail.

According to Klevensparr the situation is untenable. He hopes that filing a complaint with the ombudsman will result in a hearing which could benefit all the agencies involved.

“[I hope] that the ombudsman simply puts it foot down and gives us guidance for how we should deal with this,” he told SR.

“Right now, the police have responsibility. But I don’t think that those who wrote the laws think that the police should be dealing with so many people in holding, and more importantly not for such long periods of time.”

Sweden has come into criticism from both the United Nations refugee organisation UNHCR as well as the UN Committee Against Torture for holding rejected asylum seekers in criminal detention facilities.

In the coming weeks, a Swedish government commission is expected to present proposals for how to improve procedures dealing with asylum seekers held outside of Migration Board holding facilities.

Madelaine Seidlitz, a refugee expert with Amnesty International’s Swedish chapter, was hopeful that a decision by Klevensparr to report himself to the ombudsman could help improve what she described as an “unacceptable” situation.

“It sounds like a good idea,” she told The Local.

Seidlitz admitted that housing asylum seekers who are a danger to themselves or to others presents a number of complications, but that current practices can’t continue.

“This can’t go on year in and year out. We must find another solution,” she said.

“We’ve always maintained that Sweden has relied on holding people in remand centres to too great an extent.”

Seidlitz hoped that proposals soon to be put forward by the government commission examining the issue, but added that uncertainty about suggested solutions.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.

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IMMIGRATION

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.” 

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