HELSINKI: Finnish lawmakers agreed on Tuesday to urgently introduce tougher measures against foreign-born criminals, after recent outrage at a string of migrant men arrested over alleged sexual abuse of girls.
The measures could include raising the minimum sentence for child sexual abuse, or revoking Finnish citizenship from convicted sexual offenders with a foreign background.
Police in the capital Helsinki said on Saturday they had detained three men of foreign background on suspicion of multiple counts of aggravated child sexual assault and child rape.
Two of the men were later released, while police indicated they expect to formally charge the third man this week.
In recent weeks a series of similar arrests have been made in Oulu, a Finnish town some 200km south of the Arctic Circle.
Oulu police said on Friday they had arrested three new suspects in relation to four investigations of alleged rape and sexual abuse of girls under 15.
In December police in the town arrested at least nine suspects, all of whom had arrived in Finland as refugees or asylum seekers, for suspected sexual offences against children.
Police also warned girls and their parents to beware of sexual offenders looking to lure victims on social media.
The cases, many of which are alleged to have occurred during last summer, have sparked outrage in Finland, just three months ahead of legislative elections in April.
“It is unacceptable that some people who have sought, and even received, asylum from us have brought evil here and created insecurity,“ President Sauli Niinisto said in a statement released on Saturday.
After a parliamentary discussion on Tuesday, Centre Party MP Antti Kaikkonen told Finnish news agency STT that lawmakers had reached a “shared understanding” that new, urgent measures in response to the crimes will be implemented during this parliamentary term.
The parliament is also considering new, separate legislation to increase the maximum sentence for statutory rape — sexual activity with a minor — and introduce new punishments for forced rape of a child.
The proposed changes came about amid anger at Finland’s response to sexual assaults, after a court ruled that an adult who had sex with a 10-year-old was not guilty of rape.
Finnish police told AFP they received 1,400 reports of sexual offences against children in 2018.
In around 25% of these cases, the suspect was of a foreign background — considerably higher than the proportion of foreign-born people in the population at large, which is around 7%.
“Nationals of Iraq, Afghanistan and Estonia are the largest foreign-background groups by number (in these statistics),“ Pekka Heikkinen from the Finnish National Police Board said.
However, the highest year this century for reports of sexual offences against children was in 2011, before the arrival in Finland of a record 30,000 migrants during the migration surge of 2015-16.
Then, almost 1,700 reports were made to police, with foreign-born suspects in 7% of cases. — AFP