People in Sweden's Alleged 'No-Go Zones' Talk About What It's Like to Live There

Media reports say crime and violence are so rampant in Sweden's "no-go zones" that even the police stay away. But what is life in those neighbourhoods really like?

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Nov 3 2016, 12:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Sweden

In a recent interview with Fox Business, American filmmaker Ami Horowitz said he had visited one of Sweden's "30 to 40 no-go zones" – areas in the country where he claims even the police doesn't dare to go. "Everyday, there's gun violence going on," Horowitz said. He also claimed that "Swedish law doesn't apply in these places" and that Stockholm or Sweden (that remains unclear) "has become the rape capital of Europe." That last comment can easily be disproven—according to the Swedish Crime Survey, 5,920 rapes were reported in 2015 in Sweden, which is 0.06 percent of the population. In comparison—in England and Wales, for example, that number reflects 0.17 percent of the population. But what about the rest of his claims?

Fox Business isn't the only medium to report on Sweden's apparent no-go zones. Right-wing websiteBreitbart Newswrote in September that Sweden has become so violent that migrants are considering moving back to the war-torn places they fled. The Daily Express wrote the gripping headline: "SWEDEN IN CHAOS: Number of 'no-go zones' INCREASED as police lose control over violence". And in 2014, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported on areas, where "12-year-olds are carrying guns and drugs are sold openly."

These reports likely refer to the 53 geographical areas in Sweden that are listed in an official police report as "vulnerable areas". In these areas, crime and unemployment rates are generally higher than in the rest of the country.

I called the police station in Rinkeby in Stockholm (a "particularly vulnerable area" according to the police report and a "no-go zone" according to Breitbart) and spoke to officer Niclas Andersson. He said there aren't any no-go zones in Sweden. "There are areas with major challenges, like a high crime rate, poverty and little faith in the police or society in general. But calling them "no-go zones" paints an unfair image," he added. "And police do visit these neighbourhoods whenever necessary."

Whether it's the media or the police talking about these neighbourhoods, there's one group we hardly ever hear from – the actual people living there. I went to the Tensta suburb of Stockhol, which has also been labeled a "no-go zone" by Sputnik, Breitbart and Swedish newspaper SvD, to speak with locals about how they feel about the negative headlines circling their homes.

Ailin, 23

"Who are the people writing these stories? The only thing the media report on when it comes to our neighbourhoods is how bleak it is here. It's frustrating. If you google Tensta, you'll only find pictures of riots. I'm from here and I know that there's so much more to these areas than riots. Of course you'll feel more unsafe when visiting an area you're unfamiliar with – that's what the media do and then they report on it. I don't feel unsafe here – this is my home and these are my neighbours.

Instead of focusing on one or two crimes in the area, the media should be reporting on why it's unsafe to go places at night, why there's more crime in certain areas – and if the reports are true in the first place. I guess I don't always understand what's going on with the police over here – the place is segregated and a lot of people don't trust the police. But it goes without saying that no one can speak for everyone who lives here."

Agata, 23

"I've talked to people who are afraid to come here because they think Tensta's brimming with criminals – that's what they read in the papers. They shouldn't be afraid. The media talk about Tensta in a way that's not always accurate, but a lot of things are true. When you see a video of a reporter being assaulted, you can't deny it ever happened. But you have to also ask yourself what happened before that assault.

There's violence anywhere in the world and you can get yourself into trouble anywhere. I feel as safe here as I do in Stockholm's city centre and other areas with a better reputation. I find that people are friendlier here, because it's a tight community that looks after each other. We need to ask ourselves how and why segregation, alienation and poverty emerge in some areas and what can be done to prevent it. People here don't trust the government and police, because they feel they're being treated unfairly. How can we change that? That's what the media should be worrying about."

Suhul, 26

"Even our local newspaper usually reports on Tensta in a negative way. There are a lot of immigrants here and the news reflects that segregation. It's difficult to communicate with the police, because they think of us as criminals before they've even met us. But I mean, I love it here. I feel safer here than anywhere else in Stockholm. Tensta isn't some kind of war zone or battlefield. Some young people do hang out on the street and if you're not from here, I can imagine you might think it's unsafe. But I don't think it's worse than anywhere else.

The media should look at these areas from a wider point of view. A couple of years ago, for example, the Turebergs school in Sollentuna [Sollentuna is a risk area] was demolished and now there's a jail in its place. What kind of message does that send?"

Amanuel, 28

"A while ago, I saw a television crew setting up in the middle of our town square. They turned a huge spotlight on the people walking by. They were reporting about the neighbourhood and just filming the people living here instead of talking to them. That's so symbolic of the way the media interact with people in this area – they think of us more as a spectacle than as actual thinking human beings. I think this way of thinking and the "us versus them" rhetoric is very dangerous.

I help to organise cultural events for young people in the neighbourhood – there are so many wonderful people living here. It's a very close-knit community, people look after each other. Everyone is someone's brother or sister."

Asrin, 27

"I don't think it's dangerous here – I never feel unsafe. Stockholm is very segregated. It's difficult and expensive to move around in this city so if you live in one place, that's where you'll hang out. The media just focus on crime here and the people reading these news stories never come over to see for themselves. So they believe what they read, but it's very one-sided.

People who live and work here don't think of Tensta as a place filled with burning cars and people throwing rocks at each other. Tensta is wonderful. There's an exhibition by artist Natascha Sadr Haghighian called Fuel to the Firegoing on right now at Tensta Konsthall, which explores other perspectives on these areas than just those of the media and police.

I've never been in a situation where I've had to deal with the police, so I can't say how other people feel. There's some violence here and we've had clashes between the police and locals. But I think we need to deal with that in a wider context – that's what we're trying to do with the exhibition. It would be nice if journalists did the same."

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