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.

Somali woman 'forced to pour milk on herself'

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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Black Lives Matter wins Swedish rights prize

The international civil rights movement Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation on Friday won Sweden's Olof Palme human rights prize for 2020.

Black Lives Matter wins Swedish rights prize
A Black Lives Matter protest in Malmö, June 2020. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The foundation was honoured for its work promoting “peaceful civil disobedience against police brutality and racial violence all over the world,” prize organisers said in a statement.

The Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 in the United States, has “in a unique way exposed the hardship, pain, and wrath of the African-American minority at not being valued equal to people of a different colour,” the statement said.

The movement had its major international breakthrough in the summer of 2020 following several cases of extreme brutality in the US, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

READ MORE: INTERVIEW: Sweden's anti-racism protests aren't just about what's happening in other countries

Prize organisers noted that an estimated 20 million people have taken part in Black Lives Matter protests in the US alone, and millions more around the world.

“This illustrates that racism and racist violence is not just a problem in American society, but a global problem.”

The Olof Palme Prize is an annual prize worth $100,000 awarded by the Olof Palme Memorial Fund.

It commemorates the memory of Sweden's Social Democratic prime minister Olof Palme, an outspoken international human rights advocate — and vehement opponent of US involvement in the Vietnam War — who was assassinated in Stockholm in 1986.

Since 1987 the award has honoured human rights defenders around the world including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

An online prize ceremony will take place in Stockholm on Saturday.