Alexandra Mezher was “an angel” — young, beautiful and, above all, kind.
She was also the face of a new and idyllic Sweden. The 22-year-old’s family hailed from Lebanon. A couple of months ago, Mezher began working at an asylum center in the city of Molndal, helping unaccompanied minor migrants adapt to life in their adopted home.
She was killed by one of those young migrants, authorities said. Now her death threatens to shatter that idyllic image of the Scandinavian country, already under strain as it reacts to an influx of refugees.
“It is so terrible. She was a person who wanted to do good,” Mezher’s cousin told Swedish newspaper Expressen. “And then he murdered her when she was doing her job.
“It is the Swedish politicians’ fault that she is dead,” the cousin added.
Mezher was stabbed to death Monday by a 15-year-old migrant at a refugee center in Molndal, a city of about 40,000 people on the southwestern coast near Gothenburg, according to Expressen.
“It was messy, of course, a crime scene with blood,” police spokesman Thomas Fuxborg told Swedish news agency TT. He refused to identify Mezher’s teenage attacker, his nationality or his motive, but Fuxborg did say that other asylum seekers tried to come to Mezher’s aid.
“The perpetrator had been overpowered by other residents” when arrested, Fuxborg said, adding that everyone at the center was “depressed and upset” about the brutal stabbing.
Staffan Alexandersson, a social worker and spokesman for Living Nordic AB, the company that runs the center for unaccompanied migrant youths ages 14 to 17, described the incident as a “horrible and tragic event.”
“We regret what happened,” he told TT, “and we’re working right now in the crisis team to deal with both staff and children.”
The death comes at a crucial time for Sweden. The country of 9.8 million initially took an accommodating stance toward the millions of migrants fleeing Syria and other areas in crisis, accepting more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, including about 35,000 unaccompanied minors. Per capita, the Swedes welcomed more refugees than any other nation in Europe.
But as the number of migrants mounted, so, too, did anger toward them. And by late last year, Sweden had reversed its open-door policy and introduced border controls and identification checks to stem the flow of immigrants.
The symbolism of Mezher’s slaying was not lost on the country’s politicians.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven visited the asylum center just hours after the killing, calling the stabbing a “terrible crime” and saying that it tapped into escalating fears.
“I believe that there are quite many people in Sweden who feel a lot of concern that there can be more cases of this kind, when Sweden receives so many children and youth, who come alone” to seek asylum, he said, according to Radio Sweden.
Lofven also promised more resources for police, saying that security forces were taxed by the recent influx of immigrants.
“The police authority have got … a heavier workload because of the refugee situation,” he said. “And then you need more resources.”
His comments were echoed by National Police Commissioner Dan Eliasson, who on Monday requested 4,100 additional officers to fight terrorism, carry out migrant deportations and patrol asylum centers.
“We are forced to respond to many disturbances in asylum reception centers,” he told TT. “This was not the case six months ago, and it means that we won’t be able to respond as effectively in other areas.”
“It is obvious that the migrant situation is a great strain,” added Lena Nitz, director of the police union, in an interview with TT. “It has become clear that the situation is completely unsustainable.”
The number of threats or violent incidents at asylum shelters more than doubled last year, from 148 incidents in 2014 to 322 in 2015, according to news site the Local, which cited statistics from the Swedish Migration Agency. Those same facilities have become targets for immigration opponents, with at least two dozen centers damaged by arson last year, the newspaper reported.
Gothenburg, just a few miles north of Molndal, has been the center of unrest over migrants arriving in Sweden. But incidents elsewhere have set the entire country on edge.
On Aug. 10, an Eritrean immigrant stabbed to death two people at an Ikea near Stockholm after his asylum petition was denied. Two months later, a man with a Darth Vader-like mask, sword and, according to police, a “racist motive” attacked “dark-skinned” students at a school in Trollhättan, killing one student and a young teacher’s assistant.
More recently, Lofven slammed Swedish police for “betraying” women by allegedly covering up allegations that they were sexually harassed by recent immigrants at a music festival in Stockholm, according to the Guardian. The newspaper also reported similar attacks on women in Malmö on New Year’s Eve.
The stabbing in Molndal stunned Mezher’s family.
“I felt a big shock. I was so sad,” one cousin told Expressen.
“We have cried a lot,” another cousin said. “She was such a nice person, warm and happy.”