Immigration Crackdown in Stockholm Provokes Pushback

The messages keep coming in to the Facebook and Twitter accounts of a social network called REVA Spotter:

10.37am: uniformed police at Fridhemsplan station, on their way to the platform.

11.04am: uniformed cops at Central station, Sergels Square exit. Seem to be checking ID.

11.30am: police checks at Maltesholmsvägen and Hasselby Square.

The updates provide information on the whereabouts of Stockholm police units who may be engaged in carrying out identity checks in the city’s mass transit system and streets. The object? To warn away anyone who might not have the right identity papers.

The effort is one reaction to a crackdown on undocumented migrants in the city, partly funded by the European Union’s Legal and Effective Policy Execution initiative, whose Swedish acronym is REVA. (For more details, Nathalie Rothschild has given a good account of the background to the initiative on the website).

The launch of intensified police stops in Stockholm in mid-February has led to a public outcry. Rather than conducting the stops in a nondiscriminatory manner based upon reasonable suspicion, as demanded by Swedish and EU law, the police have reportedly disproportionately stopped people who simply “look foreign.”

In an attempt to avoid allegations of ethnic profiling, the police reportedly justify the stops on other reasons, such as fare evasion; but the officers involved also inquire about immigration status. A Swedish citizen of Chilean descent was stopped and asked, in English, for proof of his immigration status. He was released after he produced his Swedish passport, but told a reporter for news website that “it feels like all of this work going on at Central Station is based on prejudice and racism, more or less.”

While police have denied any wrongdoing, Sweden’s Minister of Integration, Erik Ullenhag has stated that “identity checks based on a foreign appearance actually violate the rules that are currently in place.” Politicians from several Swedish political parties have echoed his views: that ethnic profiling must not occur in Sweden, because it is illegal; it is both discriminatory and fails to meet reasonable suspicion requirements of Swedish procedure.

There are clear European laws that also prohibit all forms of discrimination. But, unfortunately, police ethnic profiling remains a Europe-wide problem, which has only been exacerbated in recent years by concerns about illegal immigration and the threat of terrorism.

Given the national focus of policing efforts, and the specifics of law and procedure in different countries, there is surprisingly little dialogue across Europe about this European problem. Open Society has been working for almost a decade to change this. Our latest contribution is a new handbook designed to pull together in one place all that we know about the effectiveness, or otherwise, of efforts to address the issue.

Reducing Ethnic Profiling in the European Union: A Handbook of Good Practices presents nearly 100 case studies from 17 EU countries and the United States, which together cover all the factors that play into the eventual interaction between the police and minorities on the street.

The book looks at the varied underlying legal standards and institutional policies, and at the most effective oversight bodies and complaints mechanisms. It assesses different methods of collecting data to assess the extent of the problem, and mechanisms for engaging minority communities.

And it looks at ways to ensure that the individual police officers involved in deciding who to stop are aware that an individual’s skin color, dress or appearance should never be the basis for suspicion.

The handbook is intended to be a resource for police, policy-makers, and civil society actors to help inform and guide their efforts to abandon ethnic profiling in favor of fair and effective policing for all of society.

As the public debates about ethnic profiling, and about the wider issue of immigration, continue to rage in Sweden, real solutions are needed. The alternatives presented in this handbook offer a way forward at least on the policing side; eliminating discriminatory policing should enhance the overall quality and efficiency of law enforcement, to the benefit of all concerned.

*Originally published by OSF Voices on March 8, 2013.

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