27 September 1999                                  

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Xenophobia triggers racist attacks

Almost half of the Finns think that "people of some races simply aren’t fit to live in a modern society". This is one of the shocking findings of new research into the Finns’ attitude towards foreigners. The study also revealed that almost a third of the Finns think that "immigrants from outside Europe should return to their own country".

The press coverage of these findings coincided with the publication in the news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (10 September 1999) of graphic accounts by seven immigrants of their experiences in Finland. At best they were unpleasant, at worst horrific. Foreigners had been victims of beatings, verbal abuse and discrimination in the job market. All the immigrants interviewed by the magazine do not go out after dark and they avoid using public transport.

The foreigners living in Finland have founded an association, Neon, to monitor the problems of immigrants and ethnic minorities. The association collects information on incidents of racism and discrimination.

The chair of Neon, Hoslo Jiwa, quoted in Suomen Kuvalehti, says that when they set up their organisation they had no idea how bad the situation was. Things seem only to be getting worse. Neon has received EU funding and its findings will be handed to a meeting of European anti-racist committees in Helsinki in November.

"I’m afraid it will be shocking reading for many", Jiwa says.

There are about 82 000 immigrants in Finland, half of them in the Helsinki area. Black foreigners are treated worst. This group of immigrants has also lost faith in the police. One typical incident sums up the problem. A Somali youngster was beaten up by a local skinhead. On arrival the police arrested the victim.

Some of the findings give reason for some optimism. The general attitude towards foreigners is now at least a little more positive than during the dark years of economic recession in the early 90s. There is also an interesting gender difference in attitudes. It seems to be easier for women to accept refugees and immigrants of different races.

The research, conducted by Magdalena Jaakkola, reveals that what the Finns are most worried about are their jobs. The irony is, though, that their attitudes are more positive towards the nationalities who find it easier than others to find jobs. They are the Norwegians, British and Danish. The most negative attitudes are triggered by the Somalis, Arabs, Russians, Kurds, Turks, Moroccons and black Africans. The Somalis are singled out as the most common targets of racism. According to Jaakkola – quoted in Helsingin Sanomat – the reason is that they arrived in Finland during the worst years of recession.

See an article on racism in Norway, published in The Guardian on 30 September 1999:

Racism on the march in 'Europeans only' Norway

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