The year 2014 started off with bad news for immigrants in Finland in general and Lieksa in particular.
Lieksa is a small town in eastern Finland with a reputation for racism and xenophobia. According to Ilta-Sanomat, numerous cars in the parking lot of an apartment building in Lieksa were vandalised -- in one night. Residents woke up in the morning of 4.1.2014 to the disturbing reality of damaged cars -- with broken backlights, glasses and side windows. Five of the cars defaced in the parking lot had Finnish registration numbers and belonged to residents with so-called "immigrant background".
Ilta-Sanomat reported that a police officer, Aki Kauppinen, could not tell whether or not the foreign background of the car owners incited the criminal activity.
In my view, it is plausible to conclude that the background of the car owners played a role in the senseless act of cowardice. It is no coincidence that all the cars affected in the violence belong to people with immigrant background.
The town of Lieksa has a shameful reputation for racism and xenophobia -- mostly against Somalis. Local xenophobes target immigrants and refugees for abuse. According to Helsingin Sanomat racial tensions heightened in Lieksa in 2011. The town has seen a Somali stabbed and a social worker threatened, and the tyres of her car slashed. Many locals reportedly think there are too many immigrants in the town, most of them from Somalia.
Several people were arrested in Lieksa in 2011 in relation to incitement of hatred against an ethnic group and six people were sentenced for online racism. In 2013, a Finns Party politician in the town requested a "Somali-free" room for his party meetings -- a request akin to apartheid.
In my opinion, mindful of the history and reputation of Lieksa, it is hard - if not impossible - to believe that the vandalisation of cars belonging to people with immigrant background was mere coincidence. The vandalism was a targeted hate crime and manifestation of racism. The authorities should do what it takes to rein in vandals who repeatedly give Lieksa and Finland a bad name. Immigrants and refugees targeted by senseless acts of violence should refuse to be intimidated and terrorized. They should fight, of course within the confines of the law, for the right to live in peace and security in Lieksa -- and anywhere else in Finland.
*Photo (not directly related to Lieksa vandalism)
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