Somali woman ‘forced to pour milk on herself’

Somali woman 'forced to pour milk on herself'
New details have emerged about the types of harassment suffered by members of the Somali community in Forserum in south central Sweden, with integration minister Erik Ullenhag upbraiding local politicians for trying to belittle the problem.

The new information was aired during a meeting held Tuesday between local public officials and representatives from several Muslim organizations.

“On one occasion, a Somali woman was forced to pour milk over herself in order to symbolize that she should be white,” said Rashid Musa of the Muslimska mänskliga rättighetskommittén (‘Muslim human rights committee’) to Sveriges Television (SVT).

Others at the meeting described people having rocks thrown at local Somalis, girls who had their head scarves torn from their heads, and other Somali women who were spat upon.

Many participants explained that there was no point in reporting the incidents to police, echoing earlier complaints that police in Forserum have done too little or ignored reported incidents completely.

However, local police officer Anders Ydreborg said that language difficulties may be to blame for the lack of formal police reports from Somalis who have been harassed.

“There’s no intention from any individual decision maker, whether it be an officer or civilian employee, to refuse to accept a complaint,” he told SVT.

The meeting took place following a number of reports in the national media last week detailing widespread harassment of Forserum’s Somali community.

According to SVT, the number of Somalis living in the community, located near Jönköping, has dropped from 160 to 95 in the last year as a result of constant racist threats and taunts.

Following the initial reports, local politician and council member Anders Karlsson of the Centre Party argued that incidents were attributable to a local gang of young people, rather than being an indication of any underlying problem of racism.

The reaction prompted criticism from integration minister Erik Ullenhag on Tuesday, who expressed his disdain for any attempt to belittle the incidents by laying blame on an isolated group of young people.

“It bothers me when local leaders have downplayed what has happened,” he told the TT news agency.

He explained that communities must instead stand up against racism and xenophobia, as many Forserum residents did last weekend by organizing a torchlight parade which saw hundreds of residents demonstrate on Friday night in support of the area’s Somali community.

Zakaria Zouhir, chair of the Stockholm chapter of the Afro-Swedish Association (Afrosvenskarna i Stockholm) compared the reaction to the problems in Forserum to how other past high-profile instances of racism in Sweden have been handled in explaining why he planned to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

“We pointed to racism at the slave auction at Lund University and were told it was simply some students clowning around. We criticized the culture minister for participating in a racist cake installation at Moderna Museet and got a lesson on freedom of speech,” he told SVT.

“And even now we’re hearing voices that this isn’t about racism and therefore we’re choosing to go to Forserum so that the whole country and the world at large can feel the terror what these Afro-Swedes have lived with in recent years.”

Following Tuesday’s meetings with representatives from several Muslim groups, Karlsson admitted he had a new understanding of the depth of the problem.

“The overall picture is that we obviously see this as racism and have racism in our community,” he told SVT.

Ullenhag added that the government is continuing to look at what more it can do to help small communities like Forserum, which has about 2,000 residents, address the challenges that come with an influx of refugees.

“When a small municipality, or community like Forserum, receives a large number of refugees in a short time in relation to the size of the local population, we from the side of the state need to think about what is our responsibility,” he told TT.

TT/David Landes

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