President Donald Trump caused confusion during a Saturday rally in Florida when he said: “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?” Trump then mentioned the French cities of Nice and Paris and the Belgian capital, Brussels. The three European cities were all attacked by terrorists over the past two years. Although Trump did not explicitly say it, his remarks were widely perceived in the United States and abroad as suggesting that an attack had occurred Friday night in Sweden. Trump himself attempted to clarify the remarks, tweeting on Sunday: “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.”
On Monday, Trump elaborated a bit with another tweet: “Give the public a break – The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!”Trump was likely referring to an interview with filmmaker Ami Horowitz on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” which started circulating on social media shortly after Trump’s speech in Florida. Horowitz has blamed refugees for what he says is a crime wave in Sweden. The filmmaker’s claims have since come under scrutiny, as Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported Monday. Two Swedish police officers who were interviewed by Horowitz said that their comments had been taken out of context. One of them, Anders Goranzon, accused the filmmaker of being a “madman.”Such claims by Horowitz have driven up Google search traffic for information on Swedish crime statistics in recent weeks. In fact, interest in the issue has never been higher over the last four years. Trump’s references to Sweden seemed to suggest that the country’s welcoming approach to refugees and its alleged effects on crime rates should be a warning sign. But were the president’s remarks justified? “Absolutely not,” said Felipe Estrada Dorner, a criminology professor at Stockholm University. His response was echoed by multiple other experts on Monday who are familiar with Swedish crime statistics. Overall, Sweden’s average crime rate has fallen in recent years, according to Dorner. That drop has been observed for cases of lethal violence and for sexual assaults, two of the most serious categories of crime.Moreover, an analysis by Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, conducted between October 2015 and January 2016, came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only one percent of all incidents. Researchers caution, however, that segregation and long-term unemployment of refugees could have a negative impact on crime rates in Sweden in the future. The other European country that took in similar numbers of refugees per capita in 2015, Germany, has also refuted claims that the influx led to an increase in crimes. “Immigrants are not more criminal than Germans,” an interior ministry spokesman said in June. Overall, crime levels in Germany declined over the first quarter of 2016, officials said last year. Nevertheless, skepticism has persisted in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere. A Pew Research study conducted in early 2016 indicated that 46 percent of Swedes believed that “refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups.” Reports about alleged police coverups of refugee crimes might have contributed to distrust in official statistics. Criminologists also say that a handful of cases have received disproportionate public attention, creating a distorted perception among Swedes. “What we’re hearing is a very, very extreme exaggeration based on a few isolated events,” Jerzy Sarnecki, a criminologist at Stockholm University, told the Globe and Mail newspaper last May, when coverage of refugee-related crimes reached a peak. There is one statistic in which Sweden does indeed lead international crime statistics, though: reported cases of rape. When three men raped a woman on Facebook Live, the incident made headlines worldwide. But criminologists say refugees are not the reason Sweden has such an extraordinarily high number of rape cases. “The (definitions) of rape differ between countries,” said Dorner. “In Sweden several changes in legislation have been made to include more cases of sexual crimes as rape cases.” Sweden’s definition of what constitutes rape is now one of the world’s most expansive. Varying figures, as well as other Swedish measures to facilitate rape complaints, might have affected statistics, as well. Swedish crime experts also do not agree that immigrants have created so-called no-go areas inside Sweden – areas that allegedly are too dangerous for native Swedes to enter and are effectively run by criminals. “This perception is fabricated,” said Dorner. But he and others also pointed out that the refugee influx poses challenges to Sweden, just not in the way it is being portrayed by some. “Even [though] there are no ‘no-go zones’ as alleged in the propaganda, there are problems around crimes and disturbances in several suburbs of Swedish cities, where immigrant groups tend to be overrepresented,” said Henrik Selin, a senior researcher at the Swedish Institute. “Sweden definitely, like other countries, (faces) challenges when it comes to integration of immigrants into Swedish society, with lower levels of employment, tendencies of exclusion, and also crimes related problems,” said Selin. So far, there is little evidence, however, that Sweden has turned into the lawless country it is at times being described as abroad.