Experiences of ethnic profiling are common among racial and ethnic minorities in Finland.
The Stopped – Ethnic Profiling in Finland, a survey conducted by the Swedish School of Social Science (SSKH) and funded by the Kone Foundation, found that ethnic profiling is common particularly in public spaces such as metro and railway stations, restaurants and shopping centres, and airports and harbours.
Such experiences were typically related to identity checks and other control measures by public and private security personnel.
“The survey indicated that acts of control by various security authorities might be selective and partly based on ethnicity. The control acts of security guards in particular seem to include explicit ethnic profiling,” the SSKH writes in its research report.
A total of 145 people from racial and ethnic minorities were asked to tell about their experiences of ethnic profiling in Turku and Greater Helsinki in 2015–2017. An additional 26 police officers and 14 other experts, such as security guards, social workers and retail employees, were interviewed for the three-year research project.
Respondents of Somali backgrounds, for example, reported that they have been targeted by security guards almost ten times and respondents of Middle Eastern backgrounds almost six times as often as their native-born peers.
“I’ve been stopped many times,” said one respondent, a roughly 30-year-old man of African origin. “Suddenly these guys in plain clothes just came by and showed us some badge […] and started to inspect everyone right away, which I thought was really humiliating. We were waiting for the train, talking to each other, and there was no problem.”
The SSKH points out in its report that such experiences are likely to make public spaces such as parks, beaches, landmarks and market squares feel unwelcoming for racial and ethnic minorities.
“We were in front of Kamppi, and there were maybe five or six of us close to each other. The guard came and said […] you’re not allowed to gather here,” told a woman in her 40s from South-East Europe. “So I said that why not, certainly I can talk to my friends here. What is the problem here? [The guard] was really like no, you have to leave now.”
Respondents also reported being stopped outside public spaces and transport. The SSKH reveals that several respondents said they have also been stopped for no apparent reason while driving.
“I was right in the Helsinki city centre, driving around,” recalls a young man of an Iraqi background. “Then a cop stopped me, and I was like ‘oh really, why are you stopping me’. ‘Well, I’m asking for your driver’s licence, because you people usually don’t have it and you’re still driving around’.”
Such experiences were reported especially by the Finnish Roma.
“I’ve been in these kinds of situations many times when driving,” said a Roma woman in her late 20s. “Suddenly, I’ve been stopped without any reason. Then if I’ve had passengers in the car, they’ve all been asked for their papers. If we’ve wondered why we’ve been stopped, they’ve never really given us a clear answer.”
The SSKH points out the failure of authorities to provide justification for the control measures can especially gnaw away at individuals’ trust in the society and their willingness to contribute to it.
“Not a problem in Helsinki”
Neither the National Police Board nor Helsinki Police Department had yet to examine the results of the survey on Tuesday, according to Helsingin Sanomat.
Jarkko Lehtinen, a superintendent at the Helsinki Police Department, assured to the newspaper that the police department has devoted resources to preventing discrimination already for a few years. The entire staff, he added, has been instructed how to perform control measures and how to prevent discrimination in all circumstances.
“We naturally take it seriously if it’s claimed that police are using illegal ethnic profiling. But I don’t recognise it as a problem in Helsinki,” he stated.
Lehtinen also called attention to the importance of being able to justify the use of control measures to the individuals targeted by them without delay.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva