Stockholm, Sweden – Members of the Somali community complained that the authorities’ information about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) was insufficient and came too late. To rectify this, materials in 15 languages are now being distributed.
The city of Stockholm has reported a rise in COVID-19 cases, noting that residents of so-called vulnerable areas are over-represented among the newly-infected.
At least six of the 15 who died from the coronavirus have a Somali background, national broadcaster SVT reported.
At the same time, a spread of the infection was reported in the Järva area, which includes the districts of Kista-Rinkeby and Tensta. Up to 90 percent of the population of these communities have an immigrant background, and they feature in Sweden’s list of vulnerable areas. A local doctor suggested to the Expressen newspaper that the virus could have spread several weeks ago, during the Friday prayer at a local mosque.
“When [coronavirus] spread to Sweden, there was not so much information in Somali, and many continued living as usual,” doctor Jihan Mohamed, board member of the Swedish Somali Medical Association, told SVT.
Mohamed suggested crowded conditions as one of the explanations to the over-representation of COVID-19 cases among fellow Somalis.
“Many live in crammed quarters there. Several generations can live in the same apartment,” Mohamed suggested.
She also believed that cultural aspects may have played a role in the spread of the disease.
“In Somali culture, it is important to socialise, support and visit each other, especially if someone is ill,” she said.
Somali imam Hussein Farah of Rinkeby’s Islamic Cultural Centre suggested that the authorities’ information on coronavirus in languages other than Swedish was insufficient and came too late. Mohamed Nuur, chairman of the Social Democrats in Tensta, called the lack of information “heartbreaking”.
Amid the spread of the coronavirus in the blighted areas, the authorities are at pains to distribute information material in 15 languages, including Somali. Residents are reminded about the importance of social distancing and staying at home.
To better reach to the growing migrant community, national broadcaster SVT has started texting their news broadcasts in Arabic. SVT cited “the great need for information due to the coronavirus epidemic”.
Several other media, including Expressen, also produced Arabic and Somali material to accommodate non-Swedish readers.
Sweden’s Arab-speaking community has by some estimates grown to become the country’s largest, surpassing the speakers of Finnish at some point after the 2015 migrant crisis, when 163,000 asylum seekers from predominantly Arab-speaking nations entered the country.
Sweden’s Somali diaspora has been rising since the 1990s, bolstered by refugees from the Somali Civil War. Today, it is estimated at over 60,000, with over half of them retaining their Somali citizenship as well. Their vast presence earned Rinkeby the colloquial nickname “Little Mogadishu”.
According to official statistics, Sweden had a total of 2,272 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The average age of the infected was 54, with men constituting 54 percent.