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A building designated as an accommodation facility for asylum seekers was lit on fire in Rauma in the wee hours of Friday, investigators at the South-western Finland Police Department have ascertained.

The fire broke out in the staircase of the building but was subdued by the responding fire-fighters before any of the residents suffered serious injuries, according to the investigators. A few of the residents were nevertheless taken to a hospital with burns.

The first asylum seekers were scheduled to move into the building next year. The building is currently inhabited by people who have arrived in Finland from elsewhere in the European Union, some of whom are employed at the construction site of the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant.

Helsingin Sanomat compiled a list of similar incidents that have received media attention between September and December:

Sources: Etelä-Saimaa, Keskisuomalainen, YLE

September:

- 12/9 Kitee: A metal object is thrown through the window of a folk high school providing education to foreign students. Racist symbols are painted on the building.

- 20/9 Petäjävesi: A building designated as a reception centre is lit on fire.

- 24/9 Kouvola: A petrol bomb is thrown at the door of an emergency accommodation facility.

- 25/9 Lahti: Rocks and fireworks are thrown at a bus carrying asylum seekers. A man wearing an outfit in the style of the Ku Klux Klan is pictured among the protesters.

October:

- 7/10 Hämeenlinna: A petrol bomb is thrown at the window of a reception centre in Lammi.

- 19/10 Siilinjärvi: Two smoke grenades are thrown at the door of an emergency accommodation facility.

-30/10 Ylivieska: Three petrol bomb-like objects are thrown at the wall of a folk high school housing and providing education to under-age asylum seekers.

November:

- 15/11 Lahti: Bricks are thrown through the windows of a reception centre in Hennala.

- 21/11 Oulu: A petrol bomb is thrown outside a reception centre in Heikinharju.

-22/11 Imatra: A smoke bomb is thrown into a reception centre.

December:

- 1/12 Kankaanpää: A building designated as a reception centre is lit on fire in Niinisalo.

- 4/12 Rauma: A fire breaks out in a building designated as a reception centre. Police believe the fire was lit deliberately.

The residents will be brought in for questioning in the days to come. “We've yet to make any arrests in connection with the incident. We've also yet to interview the residents. Most of the people living in the building are foreigners so it's taken us a while to find a common language,” Marko Peltonen, the officer in charge of the investigation, said on Friday.

He refused to reveal whether the investigators have identified any suspects or determined a possible motive for the act. He did reveal, however, that the fire is investigated as aggravated criminal mischief because it threatened the life and well-being of dozens of people.

The incident is the latest in a series of offences against facilities housing or providing education to asylum seekers in Finland.

Bricks and petrol bombs have been thrown at reception centres. Investigators are also looking into several attempts – some successful, others not – to burn down buildings associated with the influx of asylum seekers.

The incidents are being investigated as serious offences, such as criminal mischief and aggravated criminal mischief, on grounds of general penal practices. Aggravated criminal mischief carries the minimum penalty of two and maximum penalty of ten years in prison, under the Criminal Code of Finland. Criminal mischief, in turn, carries the minimum penalty of four months and maximum penalty of four years in prison.

The penalties handed down for attempted offences are generally more lenient. Attempted criminal mischief is nevertheless punishable under the legislation, and a racist motive can be regarded as aggravating circumstances in sentencing.

Data published by Statistics Finland indicate that the penalties imposed for instances of attempted criminal mischief in 2011–2014 by courts of first and second instance ranged from suspended prison terms of a couple of months to prison terms of nearly one year. The penalties for aggravated forms of the offence, meanwhile, were without exception long prison terms.

At least one of the allegedly racially motivated acts that have taken place over the past couple of months has already been brought before a court of first instance. On 20 November, a 50-year-old man was sentenced to one year in prison for attempted criminal mischief for hurling a petrol bomb at an emergency accommodation facility in Keltakangas, Kouvola, in September.

The prosecutor demanded that the man be sentenced to a minimum of three years in prison, but the court ruled that his actions did not meet the elements of the aggravated form of the offence. The court did, on the other hand, determine that the act was racially motivated and regarded it as aggravating circumstances in sentencing.

The case is expected to be brought before the Eastern Finland Court of Appeal as the prosecutor has reportedly declared their dissatisfaction with the ruling. The deadline for formal appeals has been set to 21 December.

HS-HT
© HELSINGIN SANOMAT
Photo: Police of Finland

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