Prime minister, interior minister, weigh in on Helsinki’s youth crime problems

A Helsingin Sanomat story sparked a fierce online debate about young people, immigration, coronavirus and crime rates.

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File picture of Helsinki at night / Credit: iStock

Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) and Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) have weighed in on the issue of Helsinki’s youth crime problems.

Their comments come after a Helsingin Sanomat story on Tuesday highlighted that police and social services are concerned about 100-150 “potentially dangerous” young people – mainly boys and young men, many with immigrant backgrounds – roving the streets of Helsinki city centre.

The story says they aren’t one large group, but operate in smaller groups and may coordinate their messaging on apps like Snapchat. HS says these young people have a “tendency to deal with conflicts through violence” and some are involved in other criminal activities including using knives to rob younger children.

The PM says the issue must be taken seriously, and addressed before the situation escalated. “We must fight violence and prevent its root causes. The streets must be safe for everyone” Marin writes on Twitter.

Maria Ohisalo, who has ministerial responsibility for policing, says the issues are not new and that she’s discussed it before with Helsinki Police, youth workers, social work professionals and other organisations.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the difficulties of young people” says Ohisalo, highlighting the work of NGOs like Anchor Action Ankkuri which aims to promote the well-being of adolescents and prevent crime at an early stage.

Helsinki’s Deputy Mayor Nasima Razmyar (SDP) writes on Facebook that youth crime statistics have “decreased significantly in Helsinki over the last 15 years.”

“It may be that the coronavirus crisis has an impact on these statistics. We don’t recognise all the social disadvantages it causes yet. Other issues increase when there are fewer guided activities and meeting places, and social life is limited. However, Helsinki is generally a very safe and peaceful city. That doesn’t mean every crime and violence isn’t too much. But an atmosphere of fear should not be incited” she comments.

The political right-wing in Finland has predictably used the Helsingin Sanomat story to launch an attack on multiculturalism and what it sees as wrong-headed immigration policies that lead to more violent crime. A popular refrain is that Finland ‘will end up like Sweden’ in terms of perceived links between immigration and criminal activity.