The prosperous Scandinavian nation’s social services is under fire for ‘kidnapping’ the children of Muslim immigrant families - allegations which the country says constitute a 'disinformation campaign.'
Since late 2021, social media has seen an upsurge in viral videos of Swedish authorities removing the children of Muslim immigrants from their homes, accompanied by claims that social services have been ‘kidnapping’ and mistreating the children.
Allegations include that after being taken from their families, the children are placed in Christian foster households where they become “secularised” or “assimilated” by, for instance, being fed pork and consuming alcohol. Some have even alleged that the children were being detained by social services, or placed with pedophiles.
Sweden, on the other hand, has denied the allegations and propagated that disinformation that is being spread through the viral videos, leading to mistrust among immigrant families.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry addressed the issue in a 5-part Twitter thread, warning that “a disinformation campaign” was underway and that social services “always put the safety and wellbeing of the child first.”
The ministry also emphasised that social workers could only separate children from their families with consent, or via a court order if families do not voluntarily cooperate.
1. A disinformation campaign is currently under way on various social media – both in Sweden and abroad – alleging that Swedish social services kidnap Muslim children. This information is wrong. It is seriously misleading and aims to create tensions and spread mistrust.— Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs (@SweMFA) February 11, 2022
Migration and Integration Minister Anders Ygeman said the issue was being discussed with Muslim NGOs, while asserting that Swedish social services “absolutely do not” kidnap children.
According to Ygeman, the disinformation campaign is partially fuelled by "frustrated parents who have failed in their parenting," who were now putting the blame on authorities out of rage.
"There are also malevolent forces that want to exploit these parents' frustration to spread mistrust and division," Ygeman added.
According to the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency, many of the viral videos that have led to an escalation in kidnapping allegations are old videos that have been given in a misleading context to “polarise" people.
"A very aggressive rumour campaign is currently underway on various social media … This information is, of course, seriously misleading and the sole aim is to create tensions and spread mistrust," the Swedish Consulate General in Türkiye’s Istanbul also said in a statement.
Swedish authorities have persistently defended that the social services are overseen by professionals and are primarily aimed to support families and protect children.
Real issues shadowed by disinformation
"Starting out, it was probably intended as a campaign where families of those whose children have been taken into custody have felt unjustly treated and wanted to criticise social services," Julia Agha, head of the Stockholm based Arabic-language news outlet Alkompis, told AFP news agency.
"What's happened is that this campaign has ended up in the hands of forces abroad that have put a religious filter over it and are spreading disinformation, which now looks more like a hate campaign against Sweden and Swedish society," she added.
Simultaneously with the viral videos, immigrant families have been taking to the streets in several parts of Sweden to protest what they say is the unjust removal of their children from their homes and their ensuing mistreatment.
Their protest banners read "Give us our children back," "Our kids were taken away from us, we were subjected to injustice," and "We want justice." The families also expressed dissent toward the state’s choice of foster families who they found to be unsuited for the care of their children.
Mikail Yuksel, head of the Swedish Nuance Party (Partiet Nyans) who was present in the protests, acknowledged the disinformation on social media but emphasised that there was a real issue beyond the “rumours.”
"The social services agency's justification for taking a child from a Swedish family is not the same as the reason for taking a child from a Muslim and immigrant family. Formidable prejudices come into play for Muslim and immigrant families," he told Anadolu Agency, implying double standards on the part of Swedish authorities.
Yuksel added that a report by the Swedish Discrimination Bureau indeed showed discrimination against immigrants. Authorities and researchers had also noted that the children of immigrants were removed from their families more often than the children of ethnic Swedes.
One example is Mariya Ellmoutaouakkil, a 35-year-old mother of three who immigrated to Sweden from Morocco over a decade ago. Two of her children, her 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, were removed from her care.
Social services had taken her children upon unfounded allegations of violence, she told AFP. The only evidence in the case was the interviews social workers had with her children that she was denied access to.
"It can start to feel like a kidnapping for me as a mother," Ellmoutaouakkil said, while stressing that she was aware the children had not been “kidnapped”.
"When we as parents don't get answers, I can understand that they call it that," she added.
Diab Talal and his wife Amal Sheikho, who immigrated to Sweden in 2017 through the UN refugee resettlement program, also had their children taken away. Four of their children were taken in the same year they had arrived in Sweden, while the fifth was taken in 2021 immediately after it was born.
“We came to Sweden from a stressful road and war. When we first arrived, we were depressed. They took our four children from us on our neighbour’s complaint … that we used violence against our children,” Talal told Anadolu Agency.
The investigation into the couple found no evidence for the allegations, yet social services proceeded to place the children with different families and forbade the couple from seeing them according to Talal.
“While we were shedding tears for our children, we were targeted in the Swedish media and was labeled ‘Islamists and terrorists’,” Talal added, referring to a demonstration they had joined to protest the treatment of Swedish authorities.