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Why Sweden doesn’t keep stats on ethnicity and crime

The subject of immigration is an increasingly charged one, yet much of the discussion is founded on guesswork. To the ire of some, and the agreement of others, Sweden does not collect statistical data on the ethnic background of criminals. The Local’s Sweden in Focus series looks at why that is the case, and whether it’s likely to change soon.

Contemporary debate about immigration in Sweden often centres on the unusually high influx of refugees in the last decade, which is frequently claimed by the international far right to have sown chaos. Google’s data shows that some of the searches connected to “Sweden immigration” that have increased most in the last five years are “Sweden crime rate” and “Sweden rape statistics”.

While the domestic debate is more nuanced, migration remains a hot topic in the build-up to theforthcoming autumn general election, and crime in relation to immigration is a particularly big talking point.

It doesn’t take much effort to find articles claiming to have the ‘truth’ about the relationship between immigrants or refugees and Swedish crime. Yet the real truth is that there is no up-to-date public data on the ethnic background of criminals in the country, with existing figures more than a decade old.

There was once a time when Sweden regularly recorded such data on the national origin of those involved in crime, explains Stockholm University criminology professor emeritus Henrik Tham, who specializes in Swedish criminal policy and its history.

“In the 1980s in official statistics there were two tables on people who had been prosecuted, and one of them covered foreign citizens registered in Sweden under the category ‘Living in Sweden’. There was a separate part about those not registered in Sweden: everything from students to Danes and Norwegians who came over and sometimes ended up involved in fights, but didn’t have residence here,” Tham tells The Local.

“In 1991 when the centre-right government decided it wanted to get rid of Statistics Sweden (SCB) – which was seen as an expression of social democracy – they moved the responsibility for statistics to different bodies, which meant crime statistics were moved to the National Council on Crime Prevention (Brå). At that point the stats we spoke about earlier disappeared.

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