Ferran Barber: ‘Jungle’s knocking on Sweden’s doors’

A Spanish independent journalists team have worked for six months in Northern Europe in order to portray the situation of the migrants

A Spanish independent journalists team have worked for six months in Northern Europe in order to portray the situation of the migrants and in particular of those who have left their countries because of the recession. This initiative is part of a larger project about the new flows of migration and the emergence of fascist movements in Europe.

Ferran Barber.

 Released by X-Pressed. Author: Susana García. April 24, 2014. The first stop was Sweden. From there, journalists are about to move to Germany and Belgium, among other places. “Bienvenidos a Suecia” is going to be the first part of a documentary series on migration and xenophobia in Europe. It will be released in late spring. Ferran Barber and Nuria Oliva give us here a preview of the conclusions to which their journalistic inquiries are pointing. This project is funded entirely through crowdfunding. You can contribute to it by clicking on this link.

What inspired you to start this project?

Nuria Oliva. We believe that there is not enough information about the people who are leaving Southern Europe because of the crisis. And the little information we have usually appears out of context or is too superficial. We want to portray the “exiles” in their hosting countries. Neither Spaniards know what’s happening in the North nor the Northern Europeans know the human consequences of the structural cuts sponsored by the Troika.

Why did you choose Sweden as your first destination?

Nuria O. Firstly, for logistical reasons. Also because it is a good example of how Europe is taking over the far-right points on emigration.

Ferran Barber. We were interested in the social climate that has allowed all those Nazi movements to gain strength in Sweden. In our opinion, they are not the real problem, but a manifestation of it. In Sweden, there is a structural problem of xenophobia that permeates institutions like the Police.

Many of the things you are saying about Sweden contradict all the clichés about the exemplary Scandinavia.

Ferran B. There are stereotypes transmitted by repetition for better or for worse. In some ways, they end up shaping the image of a country or a society and eventually, perpetuating lies or partial truths. What many people are finding out now is that many of those Swedish postcards do not fully conform with reality.

Ferran Barber, en el norte de Suecia.

What do the Swedes think of your team points?

Nuria O. Well… some right-wing Spaniards are also annoyed that the EU scolded the Government of Rajoy for what happened to Africans in the Spanish city of Melilla…

Ferran B. Chauvinism is free. As our Swedish friends know, this is not against Sweden, but against a state of facts. We are judging a society, by interpreting what we see from our point of view and values. Also many people find it interesting to know our views as outsiders. Sometimes you miss the forest for the trees.

Given that EU migrants cannot be considered “undocumented”, what kind of mechanisms is Sweden using against unwanted immigration?

Nuria O. Of course Europeans can be considered “undocumented” or at least “without the right papers to live a normal life”. The Swedish government imposes a lot of red tape for foreign job seekers.

Ferran B. Keep in mind that the obstacles that the Swedish Government imposes on European newcomers temporarily convert them into outcasts. Getting a personal number is a daunting task which, in the best case, takes months. Until they get this number, “European economic exiles” have no right to rent an apartment, open a bank account, sign a phone contract or even attend certain cultural events. It is a rather twisted way of preventing European newcomers from accessing the Swedish labour market saving face in the international arena. The Swedish Government does not prevent people from travelling to the country because it is subject to the EU laws and agreements, but it interposes so many obstacles that it tests peoples’ patience.

Sweden is also on the top of European charts for refugees asylum.

Ferran B. Sweden accepted new quotas of Syrian refugees last year and generously publicised this decision. Unfortunately, the Government is failing to integrate newcomers in the model of multiculturalism designed by their social engineers. There is a lot of evidence for it. It has been almost a year since the violent riots which took place in Huskebi and other Swedish suburbs. I remember that the international press was stunned to see burning cars in Swedish ghettos and used to refer to these events with bulky headlines. “If this is happening in Sweden, what is going to happen to the rest of us?”, most of the people thought. But it was not strange that those events were happening in Sweden. It was inevitable.

You went to Sweden as “a migrant” to document the pain of the people who are leaving their countries because of the crisis and you yourself were harassed…

Ferran B. Indeed, I was approached by the Swedish police five times during my first week in Northern Sweden. Someone called the police to report that there was a suspect “of something”. Do you know what I had been doing when the police approached me for the fifth time? I had been taking pictures of a lake! That’s why somebody called the police after realising that I was driving a foreign car. Then, I took the case to the local media and it was the beginning of a long friendship. Officers even hacked my Facebook accounts during the following months. A few days before leaving Sweden, I had been stopped twenty-two times by Police officers. It was all so crazy that I could not believe it. In any case, what is really important for our purposes is that our experiences were not isolated events. Unknowingly, the police put us on the track of their own excesses.

Deportista sueco en gimnasio de Umea. Fotografía por Ferran Barber.

What do you mean?

Ferran B. We found cases of migrants “kidnapped” by the police from their home’s kitchen in Sweden. A Spanish guy was arrested without a warrant a few months ago. Police officers just broke into his house and took him away along with a couple of Asian flatmates. Which were their crimes? To be foreigners without the right racial profile. And do you know what the officers told him when the guy asked why he’d been transferred to the Police station? “Police routines. If you do not like our country, just get out”. That’s what we call “Gestapo Routines”.

Do people know what it’s happening?

Nuria Oliva. People judge reality by projecting their own limited experiences, which is a human and understandable reaction.

Is the Swedish police harassing foreigners?

Nuria O. If you are asking us if that is a systematic policy, the answer is no. The problem is that if some Swedish police units are acting that way it is because society as a whole is imbued with wrong ideas.

Ferran B. The treatment you experience largely depends on the social context in which you move. The poorer you are, the more criminalised you get. There are dozens of Somalis, Kurds and Arabs on the city outskirts who have been suffering police harassment. Probably, Sweden is not so nice for them as for the people who repeat that “Swedish police is cool and nice”. And that is unacceptable.

And are Swedes aware of what is happening?

Nuria O. Many people know that migrants and many compatriots without the right (Nordic) racial type are victims of institutional and police harassment. The Swedish Press shows every week scandalous cases, cases that demonstrate how institutions are permeated with a deep and sometimes barbaric xenophobia.

Ferran B. To give some examples, many Swedes were outraged after learning that certain police units have recently established databases of Roma based on ethnicity. Even the Romanian children were included in them. This is a particularly sensitive issue in a country where thousands of Gypsies and mentally disabled people were sterilised in the mid seventies, under the Social Democrats government. During those years, nobody said anything. Now things are starting to change.

Nuria O. Many Swedes were also shocked that the police had been organising a kind of manhunt in the Stockholm subway. Authorities were accused of using racial profiling in their hunt for “illegal immigrants”.

Ferran B. We ourselves have also documented cases of African and Kurdish migrants abandoned barefoot by Police officers in the middle of nowhere. Of course, if you ask people out of the suburbs about it, most of them would tell you that it cannot be possible.

Has the social perception of foreigners changed in Sweden since the start of the European crisis?

Nuria O. There is a structural problem with xenophobia that the crisis has worsened.

So the crisis is also affecting the north of Europe…

Ferran B. Sweden has not experienced the global financial crisis like the countries around the Mediterranean, but there are many people with difficulties. The rate of youth unemployment is not far from 25 percent, which explains why one in four foreign migrants in Oslo is of Swedish origin. It’s funny, but when we asked a government official about it he told us that those guys are going abroad following their adventurous spirits. That’s familiar to us. It was the same argument used by the conservative Spanish Government to describe the profile of the Spaniards who are leaving the country in search of a job. But as the “exiles” say, they are not leaving. They have been expelled from their countries by the system.

In most cases the media are not paying attention to the real causes of the crisis, nor the human effects of the structural cuts. We could say that we are living in watertight spaces of information which hinder the overall analysis of the events…

Nuria O. Yes, that’s right. That’s why we are trying to put a face to the pain. On one hand, we have a southern Europe mesmerised by idealised images of Scandinavia that does not exist or exists only in part. And on the other hand, news about the Mediterranean human tragedy are just reaching Northern Europe as if it were the result of a humanitarian disaster or a tsunami.

What information is coming to Sweden on the human effects of the crisis?

Nuria O. It has a certain presence in the Media, but in a fragmentary form.

Ferran B. Yes, they usually put the focus on the anecdotes.

Nuria O. It is as if what it is happening in Greece or Spain were the result of the explosion of Vesuvius or Mount Teide. There is a clear lack of context. And also a tendency to suggest that we have what we deserve.

Ferran B. There were also some supportive gestures. The Swedish playwright Astrid Menasanch was kind enough to ask the Swedish journalists to report on the political involution that Spain is suffering because of its conservative ruling party. Recently, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malstrom, scolded the Spanish Government for what happened in Melilla. Many of us celebrated it because we are really ashamed of what is happening in the North African Spanish cities.

Are you gonna reflect in your work the systematic and deliberate misinformation by the media?

Nuria O. To be honest, Spanish people are more eager to see testimonies about shocking abuses than a profound analysis of what is happening. We are living in the culture of the “tweet”. You know… 140 characters! That’s the most that many people can read without dying of anxiety. Report correctly is the best way to stand up to this misinformation. Of course it is not easy considering the conditions in which we perform our work. We need the support of the people to keep on doing this.

Do the Swedes have a different perception about immigration than Spaniards?

Nuria O. The perception is not so different. Nazi groups are not so popular in Spain, but xenophobia is also a problem. The recession is being a humbling experience for many people.

Ferran B. It’s true. Spain experienced during the eighties and nineties a rapid economic growth that turned many people into arrogant consumerists. That arrogance was manifested especially with foreigners. Many people soon forgot that we ourselves had been a country of emigrants.

Anyway, it is difficult to make comparisons because I would say that Sweden is sick of political correctness. Political correctness does not always express sincere attitudes. In fact, there is a certain puritanism in this behaviour, as if the political correction were a kind of new secular religion. The Spaniards are much more communicative, for better and for worse.

Nuria O. Sweden has many problems to integrate its minorities because some people are often impervious to the difference… although they don’t admit it in an explicit way…

Ferran B. The Swedish Press and even activists prefer to put the focus on the dangers of the Nazi movements. But to us, the real problem is the low intensity xenophobia and the totalitarian drift of the State. The Swedish legal system regulates living spaces that should belong only to human interaction. I guess that’s what Julian Assange was referring to when he spoke of “North China”. You can find a lot of examples about it in the Swedish daily life. To give an example, zero tolerance to drugs has degenerated into a real witch hunt which causes crazy situations. The police force gyms to inform them about customers who quickly increase muscle mass. Of course, they are looking for steroid users. Also zero tolerance to graffiti is really scary in the “Swedish model of democracy”, as Banksi knows. And if we go deep down into the detail of human relationships, well… what can we say? Red or green Pills?. As Wikileaks denounced, state control over social life is eventually suffocating and quasi totalitarian. Many Swedes just do not know it because they have grown up under compliance and jamtelagen. We also believe, like Julian Assange, that Sweden is a sort of kind and low profile North China. The persecution of the Wikileaks founder is an unquestionable proof of the almost totalitarian hysteria of the Swedish government.

There is a growing criminalisation of poverty in Europe. Do you think this attitude is the result of the crisis or a European structural problem?

Nuria O. Both. It is partly the result of the values ​​transmitted by the neoliberal reforms. It is the consequence of “every person for themselves” and “fool is the last”. But it is also a normal psychological reaction to insecurity. In extreme situations, people tend to look for scapegoats.

Ferran B. The European governments themselves are sponsoring those lynchings by act or by omission. Tribe and jungle is knocking on Europe’s doors. History is looping back and fascism loves poverty. Many of the guys who have now joined the Swedish Nazi groups are poor and unemployed functional illiterate.

Is Europe more worried now about the defense of its neoliberal policies than about the fight against racism and the creation of human bridges?

Ferran B. All of those questions are connected somehow. These neoliberal policies have been applied in an economic context so that it became easy to cut freedoms of citizens and adopt authoritarian laws. There is an undemocratic ferment where racism and xenophobia grow vigorously. We said that things would be easier for an orange in Sweden than for a human being. But that’s how the Europe of bankers is.

Maybe it’s the system that is racist…

Ferran B. We all are the system. The so-called “system” is not a bunch of villains plotting to destroy humanity in a MARVEL comic. The system feeds the culture that amends in its benefit. People do not only share many of the values ​​of the most evil power groups, but also encourage and prop them by act or by omission. If we speak about xenophobia, it is obvious that many conservative political parties are wallowing in the mud of the far right hoping to fish votes. And if they are doing it, it is because they believe that many people connect with that ideology… In Sweden, as in Spain, many people protest against xenophobia but in practice, they act in an absolutely xenophobic way.

Who are the most criminalised migrants? Are there networks of solidarity with the new European migrants?

Nuria O. Answering to your first question, the poorer, the more criminalised and vulnerable. African Muslims are probably the most extreme case in Sweden, in Spain and wherever they go. Referring to your second question, solidarity networks are being built right now by the exiles themselves.

Is immigration the scapegoat in all European countries?

Nuria O. Belgium has expelled thousands of EU citizens under the assumption of “unreasonable burden on the social system”. Switzerland has cut quotas for migrants. Germany and the UK announced their intentions to reduce the rights of foreign jobseekers… The Spanish government has deprived public health to “paperless” migrants…

Ferran B. As in Sweden, the Danish People’s Party and the True Finns are the parliamentary third force in their respective countries. The Freedom Party in the Netherlands or the Le Pen party in France are gaining strength… Greece, Hungary… Yes, fascism is gaining strength across Europe and in the wake of this, there are a lot of people blaming the foreigners for their domestic ills.

You have launched a crowdfunding campaign on GOTEO.ORG. At what point is it?

Ferran B. Lots of Spanish journalists and Indy Medias are taking forward projects under almost heroic conditions. Many free Spanish media are touched by death. It is a pity, because no government is going to sponsor us to say what’s happening in the catacombs of Europe and in the back of the Spanish Government. Rajoy is taking Spain back to Franco’s years and Europe is silent. You know what I mean. These Indy Medias are now the only way to access information, the only way to disconnect from the Matrix.

Nuria O. The documentary is just one of the goals of our project. We are showing the way of useful information. We’re leaving the skin on it. We are making great sacrifices. We hope that our European colleagues understand the value of our work and collaborate with us. We really need the support of the people to keep on working.

Ferran B. Traditional Press does not represent anyone. I stopped watching TV fifteen years ago. I do not recognise any of the people that I love in this vaudevillesque and “reality-show” inspired follies. On the other side, there is a brave Press that is reinventing journalism. We do not have other regular income than the financial donations of our friends. Either people will realise the value of our work, or they will remain in the hands of those soldiers of fortune. Fortunately, the recession has helped many Spaniards to gain awareneness. We do not need political labels. All we need is people who agree that our democracy does not fit in their ballot boxes.

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VERITAS filia temporis. Reportero. dos o mas veces guardameta. Más de 25 años dando cuenta de los rotos y los descosidos del planeta. Autor de una novela, dos libros de viaje y realizador de varios documentales sobre temas informativos de actualidad. Allere flammam VERITAS.
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