To an outside observer, Scandinavia seems an embodiment of European social democracy, with high-minded attitudes toward human rights and spotless streets dotted with tranquil modular architecture. But even this bastion of Nordic tranquility isn’t immune to racial and ethnic conflict: We’ve seen this with the murderous rampage by an anti-immigrant terrorist in Norway exposed the extremes of Europe’s xenophobia. More recently, a controversy erupted over the exploitation of racist imagery as an artistic statement in Sweden. And this month a trial is beginning for a man charged with waging a string of violent attacks, apparently aimed at people of immigrant descent, in one of Sweden’s most ethnically diverse cities, Malmo.
Photojournalist Joseph Rodriguez was walking the streets of Malmo long before it made today’s headlines, documenting the transplanted lives of refugee communities, where many immigrants from Muslim countries were trying to carve out a new life for themselves in a bitter climate of socioeconomic exclusion and discrimination. The stories present an image of urban life that parallels the experiences of struggling communities across the United States–fraught with alienation and embattled hope.
Here’s a photographic diary and film he created about his visit to Malmo.
July 13, 2009
Malmo, Sweden once a thriving industrial town with full employment, Malmo has seen many of its plants close down since the 1990′. That combined with a never-ending stream of foreigners arriving, has led to rising juvenile deliquency and rampant unemployment of 85% to date.
Out of the town’s 280,000 inhabitants, a third are foreigners and 60,000 are Muslims.
Malmo is an open city and its government sees the influx of immigrants as a resource to their society. The problem some will argue is that Sweden has welcomed too many immigrants at the same time. In 2006 Malmo took in more Iraqis seeking asylum-seekers than Germany, Spain, France and Italy combined. The Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) is a coalition of U.S. non-governmental organizations focused on refugee protection reported in 2007, that the U.S. pledged to resettle up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees in calendar year 2007. It is likely however that only 2,000 will be processed in fiscal year 2007.
It is reported that 5,000 refugees a year seek asylum in Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city after Stockholm and Gothenburg, though it only supposed to take in 1,500.
The result is many overcrowded apartments as refugees flock to immigrant-heavy areas and some report Rosengard’s unemployment rate to be as high as 85% One Somali teenager who just graduated from high school said, “Why do they have to put us all in the same area, it feels like a ghetto.”
While immigrants in the 1950 and 60s came to sweden as much needed laborers, the trend today has shifted towards political refugees.
The famous welfare state takes care of everything on a social level. But that’s the limitation of the system-the country cannot provide any solution when it comes to jobs, which many feel that is the key to integration.
New arrivals tend to settle where they already have friends and family members, leaving Swedes to desert some its neighborhoods like Malmo’s southeastern neighborhood of Rosengard.
“When a lot of people from one ethnic group concentrate together, you always see the same phenomenon everywhere: they become marginalized, with high unemployment and crime rates.” says Yves Zenou, an economics professor at Stockholm’s University who specializes in integration issues.
“That’s the case in the United States, France, Britain and now in Sweden, although not as severe.”
The concern is that if nothing is done Sweden could explode within 10 or 20 years, as it has in other parts of Europe.
Many of the children in these areas are growing up watching their parents unemployed and socially excluded and inherit their frustration.
Compared to slums and projects in France and the USA , Rosengard looks like a nice community. But it stands out in Swedish context.
There is much greenery throughout many of its housing blocks, one housing community block is called Drommen (“dream” in English) the sign has a sweet, fairy tale images of a Swedish family as you enter its garden.
To see more of Joseph Rodriguez’s photography of urban life, global crises, and migrants around the planet, go to his website, josephrodriguezphotography.com.
All photos ©Joseph Rodriguez.