Inside the Once Tranquil Swedish Village at War with Migrants

Ulf Andersson, Daily Mail, November 25, 2015

A tranquil Swedish village is being torn apart by bitter tensions after the arrival of 20 refugee families, MailOnline can reveal.

Tärnsjö, 150km north of Stockholm, has become a hotbed of resentment where migrant children as young as five need a police escort to get to school.

Residents and newcomers have exchanged insults, thrown rocks and set fire to cars, leaving many on both sides scared to leave the safety of their homes.

Young migrant children living there have had abuse shouted at them and spat at on their journey to school.

But events in Tärnsjö are no longer exceptional in Sweden, which has always prided itself on welcoming refugees with open arms.

In the last few months, with 10,000 asylum seekers arriving a week, the country has reintroduced border controls and the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats has become the second largest party in Sweden, opinion polls show.

Instead Tärnsjö, a relatively small village with a population of 1,200, is a snapshot of those places where bubbling anger has spilled over into violence and arson.

Protesters have set fire to 17 immigration centres in the past two months–and the authorities have warned it is only a matter of time before someone is killed in the race-hate arson attacks engulfing this once-peaceful nation.

The problem in Tärnsjö, far-right local councillor Michael Ohman told MailOnline, comes down to the fact many of the villagers never wanted the migrants to move in.

‘Racial tension has divided the village into two groups; those who support the immigrants and those who want them gone,’ he explained.

‘There has been fighting between immigrants and the people living here.

‘The village integration works badly because people don’t want immigrants in the village. This is no longer a happy community, it’s divided and is not a pleasant place to live.’

The councillor continued: ‘We have the highest tax rate in the county because we are paying for so many immigrants.

‘Everyone who comes gets an allowance of 200 Kroner (£20) a week and free housing, and who pays for that? Us, taxpayers.’

Anders Petterson, a migrant liaison officer, admits many were ‘outraged’ when they began to arrive.

He hoped people he knew in the area would help them to integrate and never anticipated one day police would be called to escort migrants’ children to school as locals hurled abuse at them.

Things have disintegrated to such an extent that children aged just five sometimes run the gauntlet of hate and intimidation and sometimes arrive at Tärnsjö Skola too terrified and upset to speak.

Even teachers there are too frightened to walk with them–worried they too will become targets of hate.

Tärnsjö Skola Principal Nina Lundén told MailOnline: ‘Children said they were frightened, that they did not feel safe when they were going from their home to the school.

‘We then did everything we could to help them and arranged for them to be escorted in order to keep them safe.’

The problems are said to have begun in September when migrants started throwing stones at locals’ cars, and residents retaliated by throwing them back.

The fires were further stoked on social media–and eventually locals, thought to be teenagers, began organising ‘events’ where a gang would gather to throw stones at the block of flats which has been turned into a makeshift migrant centre.

Mr Petterson said: ‘This went on for about two weeks at a low scale, almost every day. It escalated windows at the centre were smashed.

‘This scared the migrants. They had come from Syria–from a war zone–to this.’

The following day a car belonging to a refugee family was set on fire.

Teachers aren’t the only ones in the village worried of rising tension, and what it might mean for their own safety.

Rasmus Leng lives just metres from the migrant block, and has witnessed much of the problem first-hand.

‘The neighbours living in the apartment nearby have caused all kinds of devilry,’ he told MailOnline, pointing to marks on his car, where someone had shot an air gun at it.

‘I’ve heard a lot of noise and disturbance among them. I don’t like them.

‘They have been throwing stones and they scream a lot during the night.

‘And then with the attacks from racists upon that? It does not feel safe here, especially with my wife being pregnant.’

Tobias Willhall added: ‘The immigrants have caused all kinds of trouble for us. I have friends whose storage spaces have been burgled by immigrants and bicycles have been stolen.

‘It is particularly one family. It is the one which has caused all these troubles.

‘There is a really bad tension in the village because of the refugees.’

Others were nervous about how much further the violence might go.

They fear they are on the brink of a similar incident to the one where Anton Lundin Pettersson, 21, walked into a school in Trollhättan in north of Gothenburg, wearing a helmet, a Star Wars mask and used a sword to kill two migrant students.

Back in Tärnsjö, Lillemor, a hairdresser in her mid-fifties who didn’t want to give her surname, said: ‘I’m concerned about the situation in the village.

‘Something like this might explode like happened in Trollhättan.’

The refugees are just as scared. Tamam, who is living in the apartments with his wife Rabaa, son Hamza, 13, and daughter Batoul, 12, is the refugee whose car was torched.

Taman said: ‘We have no problems with the vast majority of the people who are living here. We like living here. But there are some people who really seem to hate us.

‘We don’t feel afraid when we’re at home and all we want is peace and quiet.’

Negazi, 25, who arrived in Sweden from Eritrea in July 2014. His main complaint about Tärnsjö is not about racial tensions, but about there being nothing to do in the isolated village, which has just one small shop, and no pubs or bars.

All the same, the father-of-two said his life is better in Sweden than back home.

‘I want to get a job and I want to get an education,’ he told MailOnline

‘I left Eritrea because me and my family were in danger from the government. I was critical of the government and I was being threatened. I felt that I would come to harm if I stayed, so I got on a boat in Libya for the coast of Sicily.

‘It was a very dangerous journey and I thought we were going to die. I thought the boat would sink and I was going to drown.’

Negazi said he left behind two children in Eritrea.

‘I want to claim asylum in Sweden so that I can bring my children and my wife over to have a better life.

‘Apart from it being boring and there being nothing to do, the only thing I complain about is how long it takes to claim asylum in Sweden,’ he moaned.

‘I have been here since June 2014 and I haven’t even been interviewed by the migration board. I get 200 kroner a week from the government, so I have no complaints. But it’s an isolated place, so there is nothing to do here, it’s a bit boring.’

Outside of Tärnsjö, fire has become the weapon of choice for extremists angry at how many people have arrived in Sweden since the start of the year.

Even the government has taken action, introducing border controls for the first time since the migrant crisis began.

Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of Sweden’s centre-right Moderate Party, which has always been pro-asylum seekers, has gone one step further, and called for people to be turned away at the border.

‘If we do not act now, we will have a collapse in the system,’ she warned, according to Deutche Welle.

The numbers speak for themselves. Since September, 80,000 refugees have arrived–the same number of people as throughout the entirety of last year. On one day alone, 2,000 arrived–another record in its own right.

At the end of July, the official estimate for the total number of asylum seekers was hovering around the 74,000 mark. It now believes the number will be closer to 190,000.

For Sweden, with a population of 9.8million, that is a population increase of almost two per cent. The equivalent in the UK would be adding more than a million people to the population, or six million extra people in the U.S.

The result is the country cannot house all those arriving, with the government’s Migration Board saying it needs another 45,000 homes to meet demand.

‘We have a situation where people are forced to sleep in tents outside the Migration Boards offices, and sleeping in their receptions,’ says Mikael Hvinlund, the Swedish Migration Board’s director of communications.

‘And we have a situation where the Migration Board no longer is able to provide shelter to the applicants.

‘At our ferry terminals and train stations unaccompanied children disappear every day, it’s not fair to either us or them.’

There is no longer space in the cities, so officials are turning to the more remote villages like Tärnsjö.

The decision hasn’t always been popular with residents or migrants.

A coach load of asylum seekers, faced with having to stay in wooden huts in Limedsforsen, north-west of Stockholm, refused to get off the bus.

It was, they said, too cold and too remote. They wanted to go to a big city.

The alternative is the new tent cities, where the latest arrivals will spend the bitterly cold winter.

But as the Migration Board struggles with this problem, support for the far-right Swedish Democrats continues to grow.

The SDs want the border checks in place permanently, and have started a nationwide campaign, calling for a referendum on migration.

Their supporters have been greeting those arriving on Greece’s beaches with letters, written in English, warning that Swedish ‘society is falling apart’ and ‘the wealth has gone’.

It was signed by the Swedish Democrats, as well as ‘the people of Sweden’, according to SVT.se.

While it may not refer to all the people of Sweden the SD does have large support, said to have risen to one in five voters in recent months.

And among its number are those prepared to go a step further than leaflets and referendums to ‘reclaim’ their country.

A spate of suspected arson attacks have horrified the country, beginning in March and continuing sporadically through to August.

But then, in September, there was a sudden escalation: from the 15th to today, there have been 17 fires. At one point in October, the fires were so common there was one every day, if not twice a day.

Many of the fires followed the publication of a map setting out all the places housing refugees around the city of Lund, in the south, on the Facebook page of the local Swedish Democrat group.

There is no suggestion they were in any way involved with the fires which followed.

However, within two weeks, two homes for unaccompanied minors–one in Lund, one eight miles outside which was due to accept its first residents the next day–were set alight.

On neither occasion was anyone hurt, but Anders Bergqvist, general secretary of the Fire Protection Association, warned: ‘It’s only a matter of time before people burning inside.’

On October 24, that moment almost arrived. At an asylum centre in Munkedel, more than three hours north of Lund, a fire was started as 14 slept inside.

Everyone escaped, but the one-storey building was burned to the ground.

For those arriving in Sweden from some of the most war-torn and dangerous countries in the world it causes even more trauma.

‘For one day I felt safe,’ said Mustafa, a computing student from Gaza who was staying at the centre.

‘The day after my arrival, the house burned down.’

However, despite the alleged criminal element, there is still widespread support for welcoming people to Sweden who are no longer able to live in their own countries.

That feeling can be found just a few kilometres north of Tsanjo.

The village of Gysinge used to have population of 70–yet they have taken in 340 refugees, with locals now outnumbered by four to one.

But the response here has been entirely different.

Local resident Jenny Karlsson explained: ‘It actually had gotten people together and strengthened the community. They decided to make the most positive out of this.

‘It is a small village with high unemployment, and 15 jobs were created because of the refugees.’

As for the reaction in Tärnsjö, she isn’t surprised.

‘It’s more of a shattered village with more people tend to vote for the right wing party,’ she told MailOnline.

‘That village has let fear take over instead of welcoming people. That has also made the migrants afraid.

A person who is afraid is like a scared dog–and an afraid animal isn’t a nice person.’

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