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How The Myth Of Lawless "No-Go Zones" In Sweden Took Hold Among Right-Wing Media

Swedish authorities say there are no such areas in the country.

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Violent crime in the city of Malmö has breathed new life into the false claim that there are dozens of "no-go zones" in Sweden — a myth that police say has no basis in reality.

The recent shooting death of a 16-year-old has become another part of the narrative that portrays Malmö as a dangerous war zone where "migrant gangs" are wreaking havoc.

The southern city of 350,000 has become shorthand among news outlets with a strong anti-immigration bent for what happens when too many Muslims are allowed to immigrate to Western countries.

The conservative American website Daily Wire, for example, just ran a story on how "Muslim migration made Malmo, Sweden a crime capital."

A recent headline in the UK tabloid Express suggested that "thugs" had turned the entire city into a "no-go zone," areas where police are said to be unable to uphold the law.

Malmö police, however, say there's absolutely no truth to the idea of "no-go zones."

"It's a question that appears every now and then," police spokesperson Lars Förstell told BuzzFeed News. "It has never been true."

Förstell also said that while violent crime is certainly a problem, there is "nothing special about right now," and that there is no evidence any of it has to do with refugees. In fact, it appears linked to a cycle of violence among local gangs that dates back to 2008 — many years before the migration crisis.

It's not just Sweden. Stories about "no-go zones" across Europe still pop up with some regularity, despite attempts at debunking the false claim.

RT / Via rt.com

It is virtually accepted as dogma among many right-wing news outlets and anti-Muslim activists that there are urban enclaves throughout Europe where the government has lost control, where non-Muslims are not even allowed entry, or where Sharia (Islamic law) is imposed on residents.

No country is cited as an example more often than Sweden, which has historically been very welcoming of newcomers. Since the start of the migration crisis, however, those immigration policies have come under fire from people inside Sweden and abroad for allegedly contributing to crime and the rise of these lawless areas throughout the country.

The idea of dozens of "no-go zones" across Sweden started in 2014 after a law enforcement report listed 55 "vulnerable" areas in the country.

Polisen.se / Via polisen.se

What police described were areas with socioeconomic issues related to poverty and organized crime. Sometimes police vehicles in these vulnerable areas were attacked, the report said, and the community was less likely to cooperate with investigations.

It was a newspaper columnist — not police — who dubbed these areas "no-go zones," and the idea has since taken on a life of its own. The term is now firmly tied to the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, and often invoked in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Tales of violence committed by Muslims and refugees in Sweden often start as local crime stories that are then translated by sensationalistic UK tabloids, conservative outlets like Breitbart News, or the Russian state-funded broadcaster RT, before being further spread by fringe websites and anti-Muslim blogs in the US.

The myth of Swedish "no-go zones" has helped cement a false impression of a country overrun by criminal refugees who are tearing apart the fabric of society.

A Hungarian pamphlet showing migrant "no-go zones" across Europe - being distributed ahead of the country's referen… https://t.co/9cBwLctdVV

In 2016, the Swedish Embassy in Hungary rebuked the government of right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban for perpetuating the myth as part of a referendum campaign.

"It is important to be clear: such zones, however they are labelled or defined, do not exist in Sweden," a Swedish official told The Local.

Sweden is, of course, far from the only country painted as home to these violent Muslim enclaves. In 2015, a Fox News guest infamously claimed that the entire English city of Birmingham had become off-limits to non-Muslims.

“You basically have zones where Sharia courts were set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where the police don’t go in, and where it’s basically a separate country almost — a country within a country," said Steve Emerson, a self-described expert on terrorism.

This came as a surprise to residents of Birmingham, and Emerson's comment was widely mocked in the UK. The prime minister, David Cameron, said he choked on his porridge when he heard the claim, saying that Emerson "is clearly a complete idiot."

Ishmael Daro is a social news editor for BuzzFeed and is based in Toronto.

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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