Sweden, perhaps the most open country in the world, is on course to take almost 200,000 asylum seekers this year. Adjust for population size and that's like the UK taking a refugee city the size of Birmingham. It can't cope. Yet political refusal to admit this is incubating concern - sending voters towards the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrat parties. But most shockingly, a trend is emerging of attacks on immigrants. I look at this in my Daily Telegraph column today.
Sweden's government and opposition parties both dislike talking about immigration; they are too quick to dismiss concerns as xenophobia. In so doing, they hand voters on a plate to the Sweden Democrats - a party denounced as 'neo-fascist' in the Swedish press, but now topping the polls. Attacks on immigrants are increasing; refugee centres are being set ablaze.
For years, now, I’ve been arguing that Sweden is the best small country in the world outside of these islands. That's still my view. But what’s happening there now is tragic. Here are some stories of the attacks on refugees recently:-
28 October: Emergency services were called to a fire at a nursery in the Stockholm suburb of Danderyd. The area's municipal chairman said on the radio: ‘We announced that the building would become an asylum home. It was set ablaze the following night.’
26 October: A school building in Lund which was due to house immigrants was set alight. The Sweden Democrats had posted a map with the local of all migrant centres in the city.
22 October: A sword-wielding Nazi sympathiser attacked a largely migrant school in Trollhattan, and seemed to seek out ethnic minority students. A police spokesman said: “The perpetrator chose dark-skinned people, not white. We are convinced it was a hate crime with a racist perspective.”
21 October: Firefighters were called to a blaze at a former retirement home in Oderljunga in southern Sweden. A decision on whether to turn the building into a refugee centre was to due to be made later that day.
20 October: A reception centre in Munkedal burned down. Reuters reported that 14 asylum seekers had to escape through a window. They took shelter in a nearby building and set up night-time patrols, using their mobile phones as torches to look out for arsonists. Mustafa, a refugee from Gaza who escaped the burning building said ‘for one day I felt safe. The day after my arrival, the house burned down’.
17 October: A school building in Onsala, in a well-off area near Gothenburg, was half-destroyed by fire. The school was being converted to accommodation for asylum seekers.
16 October: A school in Ljungby which had been decorated ready to house refugees burned to the ground.
13 October: The day before a building to house unaccompanied migrant children in Arlöv was due to open, it was damaged by fire.
15 August: An asylum centre in Arboga was evacuated after police found two bags of flammable liquid nearby. The same night a blaze at centre in Värnamo was put out by passers-by. The building housed 20 young people aged between 15 and 21. A policeman said ‘the fire was not an accident. It has been classified as arson’.
Shockingly, the Swedish Migration Board now feels it must keep the location of refugee centres confidential — a decision made shortly after a note was posted on the door of a hotel housing migrants in northern Sweden: ‘This is the last warning. Leave our town.’
UPDATE I should add that many also believe that asylum seekers are behind attacks on Swedes - to an extent that has not been recognised, because the Swedish media will not report on such events. Some of the comments below give a taste of the conspiracy theories which abound. It's quite possible that the above arson attacks were perpetrated by skinheads who have persuaded themselves that this is a kind of retaliation. We're use to thinking of France as a place where politics is played out on the street: Sweden is starting to go that way too.