How, then, should we understand the connection between crime and immigration in Sweden? Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt had the facts right when he tweeted in response to Trump: “Last year there were app 50% more murders only in Orlando/Orange in Florida, where Trump spoke the other day, than in all of Sweden. Bad.” That comparison, while correct, misses the point. Of course Sweden has not turned into Orlando or, for that matter, Chicago. But in a short time—maybe as short as two decades—Sweden has gone from a nation rightly considered a model of social cohesion, equality, low crime, and political stability to a society with growing enclaves of social unrest.
In 1990, Sweden had three so-called “areas of social exclusion,” characterized by socioeconomic problems—and high numbers of immigrants. According to Swedish economist Tino Sanandaji, the number of such areas had risen to 186 by 2012. Swedish police authorities have identified 53 with persistently high crime rates. Here, police officers risk assaults, while ambulance drivers and firefighters often have to wait for police escort before answering calls from people in distress. It’s no surprise they’re often described as no-go zones.
Crime in these areas is not just new in scope, but also in kind. Systematic attacks on paramedics and firefighters were an unknown phenomenon in Sweden only a generation ago. The same goes for extensive use of guns and hand grenades in a country where most homicides historically followed from stabbings, blunt force trauma, and unarmed violence. Today, Sweden is extreme with respect to violence from guns and explosives, compared with the country’s Scandinavian neighbors: In Stockholm, the capital, 189 victims suffered gunshot injuries during the period 2010-2015. During the same period in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, only 30 people fell victim to such crimes.