LONDON — Up to 100 masked men threatened to attack refugee children in central Stockholm on Friday, according to local police accounts. Fredrik Nylén, a spokesman for Stockholm police, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, that several men had been arrested because they may have gathered “with the purpose of attacking refugee children.”
The police said that up to 100 men were involved in a march through the city center during which they allegedly handed out leaflets which threatened punishments for “north African street children roaming” Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. Previously, local media outlets reported that the city's central train station had become a meeting point for juvenile criminals.
“It’s enough now,” the leaflets reportedly say, referring to the recent influx of refugees into the country and recent reports of crimes, allegedly committed by migrants. The leaflet encouraged other men to “defend our public areas against the imported criminality.”
Both Swedish news site the Local, as well as British paper the Independent, reported that the men physically attacked refugees on Friday, but there was no official confirmation for this as of Saturday.
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Friday's incidents are believed to be connected to the murder of a Swedish asylum worker earlier this week. Alexandra Mezher, who worked in an asylum center in the southwestern city of Molndal helping unaccompanied refugees between 14 and 17 years of age adapt to their new life in Sweden, was stabbed on Monday by a 15-year-old refugee.
Mezher’s death sparked outrage in Sweden as well as other European countries. The 22-year old’s family had come to Sweden from Lebanon. Many considered Mezher an example of how easily migrant children could adapt to life in Sweden.
“It is so terrible. She was a person who wanted to do good,” Mezher’s cousin was quoted by Swedish newspaper Expressen. “It is the Swedish politicians’ fault that she is dead.”
About 163,000 refugees, including 35,000 unaccompanied children and teenagers, applied for asylum in Sweden last year. The country has a population of about 9.8 million. No other nation in Europe, including Germany, took in more refugees per capita. Sweden has a long record of welcoming people fleeing war.
But the small country’s resources have been increasingly strained: The Swedish government recently announced it was preparing the expulsion of up to 80,000 refugees. Late last year, Sweden also ended its open-border policy and reintroduced border controls.
In an interview with The Washington Post in 2015, Morgan Johansson, Sweden's migration and justice minister, said the refugee influx into Europe was likely to continue. “In the long run, Europe must face this as a union and not just single member states looking out for their own interests. Because this is not going to go away. We’re going to have refugees coming here for a long time to come,” he said.
Elsewhere in Europe, tensions between refugees and locals have also grown. In Germany, a grenade was thrown at a refugee center accommodating 170 people in the town of Villingen-Schwenningen in southwestern Germany on Friday. Nobody was injured in the incident because the grenade failed to explode. The weapon was later destroyed in a controlled explosion, conducted by police. Since 2014, the number of attacks on refugee accommodation centers in Germany has increased fivefold. There were more than 1,000 attacks on homes used to accommodate refugees in 2015 alone.