Police database of Roma stirs outrage in Sweden

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish police have established a database of Roma, the force said on Monday, confirming a newspaper report that a government minister condemned as “unethical, unacceptable and illegal”.

Daily Dagens Nyheter said the file was in the form of a genealogical tree covering 4,029 Roma, many of who had no criminal record and more than 1,000 are children.

Gathering directories based on ethnicity is illegal in Sweden, part of privacy rights that have for decades been enshrined in Swedish law. Police said they were seeking prosecutors’ advice on the handling of the issue.

It is the latest incident to tarnish Sweden’s reputation for tolerance to ethnic minorities and comes during a year in which Stockholm was hit by widespread riots by poor immigrants in May and an anti-immigrant party has risen in the polls.

The paper printed what appeared to be screenshots from a computer with access to the file, showing male individuals in blue, females in red and relationships between people.

Sweden’s minister for European Union affairs, Birgitta Ohlsson, called it “frightening, unethical, unacceptable and illegal” in a tweet.

“If we are to be able to stand up for human rights in Europe, we have to keep a clean house at home. Information of registration of Roma is revolting,” she said.

Police spokesman Lars Forstell said the file in question was a file which the police can draw up to solve and prevent serious crime when doing special investigations.

Such files are temporary and may include people who are not suspected of any crime, he said, adding he could not confirm the number of people Dagens Nyheter said were included in the file or any details.

“Our general counsel has been tasked with leaving this to a prosecutor to get an external evaluation of whether this has been handled correctly,” Forstell told Reuters.

There are an estimated 10 million Roma living across Europe, and they are one of its oldest minorities. The Council of Europe, which monitors human rights, says they are also the most discriminated against minority on the continent.

The majority of Europe’s Roma live in the Balkans. An estimated 50,000 Roma live in Sweden.

About 15 percent of Sweden’s population is foreign-born. While many are from neighboring Nordic countries, others are drawn by the country’s policy of welcoming asylum seekers from war-torn countries.

Reporting by Sven Nordenstam and Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alison Williams