• Sweden's news in English

Online refugee greeting takes Sweden by storm

24 Jan 2013, 14:54

Published: 24 Jan 2013 14:54 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Oskarsson's unexpected ascent to nationwide recognition began with a humble posting on the Facebook page of the Ica grocery store he runs in Kaxås, a small village in Offerdal, nestled among the hills and forests of the northwestern Swedish county of Jämtland.

"We welcome all those newly arrived from Syria and we hope that you'll enjoy beautiful Offerdal," read the post, published on January 18th.

According to Oskarsson, three families from Syria had recently moved to Kaxås, marking the first time the village had ever had refugees among its roughly 150 inhabitants.

The new arrivals are part of an influx of 17 Syrian families moving to Krokom, the municipality of nearly 14,500 residents where Kaxås is located.

Last week, Oskarsson met some of the newly arrived Syrian refugees in his Ica shop and felt compelled to do his part to make them feel welcome in their new home.

It didn't take long before the Facebook greeting went gangbusters on social media, garnering well over 2,000 likes and 1,000 shares on Facebook and spawning its own hashtag on Twitter, #ICAKaxås, which for a time was one of Sweden's top-trending hashtags.

"I thought we should welcome them to Kaxås. I arranged a picture with the Syrian flag in the background and a short text," Oskarsson told the local Östersunds Posten (OP) newspaper.

"I put it out on Facebook and it didn't take long for the comments to explode."

Oskarsson explained that he planned to add halal meat to the selection of foods available at his shop, as well as sweet potatoes and tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds common in Middle Eastern cuisine.

By Tuesday, Oskarsson had been featured in several Swedish newspapers, prompting comments from celebrities and commentators mystified over the fact that more Swedes seemed to be talking about a local grocery store than news that Swedish Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni was stepping down.

"Every now and again you catch a glimpse of a hero. First time I've been proud to have an Ica-card," tweeted author and comedian Jonas Gardell along with a link to the story.

While most of the attention was positive, Oskarsson also found himself the target of criticism and threats from those critical of Swedish refugee policies.

"Someone wrote that I should be hung from a lamp post," he told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

After more and more racist comments began to appear on the shop's Facebook page, Oskarsson opted to remove the post.

But supporters of Oskarsson rallied their forces later in the week, with 22-year-old Stockholm resident Linnea Swedenmark organizing an online petition allowing people to send greetings to the shop owner.

Swedenmark told Aftonbladet she was blown away by the response.

"I hoped that maybe 50 would write, but now nearly 5,000 have written personal greetings," she said on Thursday.

RELATED: A list of The Local's past Swedes of the Week

She said she hopes Osckarsson is "surprised and moved" by the responses, which she plans to collate and pass along at the weekend.

Politicians have also expressed their support for Oskarsson, with Green Party leader Gustav Fridolin posting a picture on his Facebook page of him holding a sign, written in Swedish and Arabic, inspired by the shopkeeper's message.

"We welcome all those newly arrived from Syria and we hope that you'll enjoy beautiful Sweden," the sign read.

When reached by The Local, Oskarsson admitted the threatening comments were "unfortunate and unsettling", but remained upbeat about his efforts.

Story continues below…

"It's been unbelievable. It's funny to see how things evolve on social media," he said.

He explained that he and his staff have received mostly positive feedback over his efforts to make some of Kaxås's newest residents feel welcome.

Oskarsson sees the refugees as a needed boost for the area's dwindling population, but remains baffled that his Facebook experiment has engaged people across the country.

"We only created the page to make it easier to publicize offers to our regular customers," he said before hastily drawing the conversation to a close.

"I've been doing interviews for four days and need to get back to work."

David Landes

Follow David Landes on Twitter

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

16:10 January 24, 2013 by Svensksmith
I wonder if Mr. Oskarsson moved to Syria, would he get the same warm greeting?
16:27 January 24, 2013 by jvtx3232
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
18:08 January 24, 2013 by icedearth
Svensksmith: The Levant Sea people are very hospitable, but you do not know. They will offer you their bed, when they will use the floor.
19:23 January 24, 2013 by deenforcer
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
20:09 January 24, 2013 by Svensksmith
@icedearth: I've heard about Arab hospitality being very warm....in some cases.
20:28 January 24, 2013 by Soderling Larsson
how much more are they going to take? i like refuges but we cant take anymore send some to Serbia or America. does anybody no when they will stop?
22:41 January 24, 2013 by k2kats
Bravo to Bo Oskarsson of Kaxås! He represents the very best of Sweden's heart and soul.
22:44 January 24, 2013 by deenforcer
Ahh, I won't want to waste my breathe with these stupid swedes anymore. Good luck destroying your country soockers!
23:35 January 24, 2013 by jvtx3232
"I wonder if Mr. Oskarsson moved to Syria, would he get the same warm greeting?"

Svensksmith: maybe only if he whole-heartedly converted to Islam. If he's a Christian he'd likely be s.o.l.!
23:36 January 24, 2013 by mafketis
Here's a thought. Syria has almost three times the population of Sweden and enough social, political and religious dysfunction to turn the entire country into refugees.

"we hope that you'll enjoy beautiful Offerdal"

If the past is anything to go by they won't. they'l see it as a den of inequity to be reformed by what they think is they're superior moral/religious system. And they'll conveniently forget that that system caused them to be refugees in the first place.
02:05 January 25, 2013 by HenryPollard
"Dear leeches! Please come and enjoy my delicious red blood!"
09:01 January 25, 2013 by deenforcer
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
12:46 January 25, 2013 by Redondo Beach
Why did I, and all other Westerners, never get a "Welcome to Sweden" greeting and my countries foods stocked in my local ICA? I guess only certain types of newcomers are truely wanted in Sweden and being American I must be from the wrong part of the world!
14:43 January 25, 2013 by rudolph
A very high percentage of Syrians are Christians
21:28 January 25, 2013 by jvtx3232
Rudolph, 90% of Syrians are Muslims. Look it up.
08:40 January 26, 2013 by deenforcer
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
15:41 January 29, 2013 by Emerentia
@ Redondo Beach Do you really mean that your local ICA didn't have any Coca cola, peanut butter, hamburgers, ketchup. marshmallows etc? Out of all different foreign foods Swedish store has the most from the US actually. a lot more than from Syria anyways.
Today's headlines
Fake police car driver seized after confronting real police
File photo of a police car. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Three men in a fake police car were left red-faced after they tried to stop a man in southern Sweden who turned out to be an off-duty officer.

This tiny bird can fly for ten months straight: scientists
The common swift while not in flight. Photo: Madis Veskimeister/Wikimedia

Swedish scientists have found that this bird stays in the air for almost a year without landing.

Why the Pope is visiting Sweden next week
Pope Francis in the Vatican. Photo: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Pope to nail reconciliation agenda to Lutherans' door in southern Sweden.

The Local Recipes
How to make no-knead sourdough bread like a Swede
No-knead sourdough bread. Photo: John Duxbury/Swedish Food

Swedes love their sourdough bread. Food writer John Duxbury shares his favourite Swedish recipe for a no-knead loaf.

Meet Sweden's lonely Donald Trump voter
A Donald Trump campaign button. Photo: Rogelio V Solis/AP

The Local talks to an American Donald Trump supporter on what it is like living in progressive stronghold Sweden.

Forgotten Ingmar Bergman script to be made into a film
It's thought the script was part of an ill-fated collaboration between Bergman (left) and Federico Fellini (right). Photo: AP

Written in 1969, the script is 'up to the standard of his best', according to the Ingmar Bergman Foundation.

Sweden's consumption footprint 'among the worst'
Trucks transporting goods on a Swedish highway. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Sweden has been criticized for its unsustainable consumption of the planet's resources in the latest edition of a major WWF study.

Video: How to be Joel Kinnaman for a day
Kinnaman with one of the camera rigs that will allow people inside his head. Photo: Tele2

The Swedish Hollywood actor will strap a camera to his head, stream it live and allow viewers to interact with him this weekend.

Presented by Invest Stockholm
How Stockholm's cold climate boosts creativity
Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

Do long, dark winters actually make Swedes more creative and more productive? We spoke to Stockholm startups to find out.

Sweden to keep record-low interest rate in 2017
Sweden's landmark negative interest rate will continue towards 2018. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The Swedish central bank said that it will take longer than expected to reach its inflation target.

Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
People-watching: October 26th
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Sweden cuts 2016 refugee forecast
Is Game of Thrones coming to Sweden?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
Property of the week: Kungsholmen, Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Will Swedes soon be looking for fairtrade porn?
The Local Voices
'I simply don’t believe in nationality'
Why we're convinced Game of Thrones is based on Sweden
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
People-watching: October 21st-23rd
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
Sponsored Article
One expat's strategy for making friends in Stockholm
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
Nordic fashion in focus at Stockholm University
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
People-watching: October 12th
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
jobs available