STOCKHOLM • Masked men chased migrants in Stockholm last weekend in a rare act of overt violence against refugees, but one that reflects smouldering tensions in Sweden as it grapples with the consequences of a record influx of migrants.
The attack came just days after a teenage asylum seeker killed a young woman working at an asylum residence.
Between 50 and 100 masked and hooded men chased and reportedly beat up "people of foreign appearance" last Friday evening at the Sergels Torg plaza in the heart of the city and handed out leaflets calling for "the street children of North Africa to get the punishment they deserve".
Police swiftly chased off the assailants, but footage of the racist attack shocked many Swedes as they struggle with conflicting emotions regarding the flood of arrivals.
On the one hand there is a deep-rooted, longstanding sense of humanity and willingness to give refuge to those in need. On the other hand, there is a grim realisation that the country's infrastructure is overwhelmed after welcoming more migrants per capita than any other European Union country last year.
In 2014 and 2015, Sweden, where 20 per cent of the population has foreign origin, took in 245,000 asylum seekers. On both the left and right wings, the Swedish media have squarely placed the blame on Prime Minister Stefan Lofven - a Social Democrat, whose party hit record lows in the polls - accusing him of downplaying the challenges facing the country.
"What is going on in Sweden?" asked daily Expressen on Sunday, listing a growing number of issues linked to migrants, including arson attacks on asylum residency centres and cultural as well as religious tensions.
In an editorial on Jan 26, the centre-right daily Svenska Dagbladet called for migrants who commit crimes to be expelled - a proposal published the day after the fatal stabbing of Ms Alexandra Mezher, a 22-year-old asylum centre social worker.
Ms Mezher, of Lebanese origin, was knifed by a 15-year-old boy as she tried to break up a fight in a centre for unaccompanied minors where she worked in Molndal, a suburb of Gothenburg in south-western Sweden. "We would never have thought this was possible in Sweden. We hold the government and the Prime Minister responsible," the victim's uncle told AFP.
A few days later, the government announced it wanted to improve its efficiency at deporting asylum seekers whose applications are rejected, estimating that at least 60,000 of the 163,000 who applied last year would be rejected and expelled.