A pedestrian with an umbrella in snowfall in Helsinki on Wednesday, 25 October 2023. People of African descent experience racial harassment and discrimination regularly especially in Austria, Finland and Germany, reveals a 13-country study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). (Heikki Saukkomaa – Lehtikuva)


PEOPLE of African descent consider Finland as one of the most racist countries in the European Union, suggests a 13-member state study by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA).

In Finland, 43 per cent of such people reported to having experienced racial harassment in the past year, a proportion that is higher than in any of the other 12 countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The proportion rose to 52 per cent when respondents were asked if they have experienced racial harassment in the past five years.

Experiences of racial harassment from the past year were nearly as common in Germany (42%) and the least common in Portugal (6%) and Sweden (10%). On average, 24 per cent of respondents across the member states stated that they have experienced racial harassment in the past year and 30 per cent in the past five years.

The FRA asked about such experiences from residents of the countries who are originally from sub-Saharan Africa or have at least one parent from sub-Saharan Africa. The study received more than 6,700 responses.

Racial harassment, it found, is common especially toward young women, the highly educated and people wearing religious clothing.

Finland found itself questionably near the top of the results also in terms of the extent of racial discrimination, with 54 per cent of those surveyed in the country saying they have perceived racial discrimination in the past year and 63 per cent in the past five years. Only Germany and Austria had a higher perceived level of racial discrimination: In Germany, 64 per cent reported to having perceived racial discrimination in the past year and 76 per cent in the past five years. In Austria, the corresponding shares were 64 per cent and 72 per cent.

People of African descent reported on average to having felt racially discriminated against at a rate of 34 per cent in the past year and 45 per cent in the past five years. Such experiences were common especially when looking for a job, at work or looking for a house, according to the study.

The FRA last conducted the study in 2016, with the release of the results two years later receiving widespread attention in Finland. While the extent of racial harassment has stayed unchanged at 30 per cent in the past five years, that of racial discrimination has increased from 39 to 45 per cent among the countries surveyed, including from 60 to 63 per cent in Finland.

“It is shocking to see no improvement since our last survey in 2016,” stated Michael O’Flaherty, the director of the FRA. “Racism and discrimination should have no place in our societies. The EU and its member states should use these findings to better target their efforts and ensure people of African descent too can enjoy their rights freely without racism and discrimination.”

Expert: Results reflect persistent prejudices in Finland

The results of the study reflect lingering prejudices toward immigrants in Finland, Mona Eid, a research director at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), viewed on YLE Radio Suomi on Wednesday.

“Maybe this is an indication that we have some kind of an ethnic hierarchy. [People] from countries and groups of countries that are the furthest away from us and who are possibly different in terms of their appearance, they feel the most discrimination in Finland. This situation unfortunately hasn’t improved from the previous survey,” she stated.

She stated that it is sad at the individual level that people are not treated equally, adding that experiences of racism have been linked to psychological and somatic symptoms. She also called attention to the apparent disconnect between labour shortages and unwillingness to hire people of a certain ethnic appearance.

“We need more labour, but racial discrimination prevents people from getting these jobs,” she said.

The work to develop more positive attitudes and eradicate prejudices should start already in early-childhood education, according to Eid.

“We should invest more in diversity and encounters, as well as measures related to these. This is a very important societal problem that should be resolved,” she underlined.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT