Right wing amplifies the myth of Helsinki’s ‘no-go zone’

Senior police officers say that immigrant-background children and white Finnish kids have been involved in recent spate of vandalism.

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File picture showing exterior of Columbus shopping centre in Vuosaari / Credit: News Now Finland

London, Paris, Stockholm, Malmö – and now the Helsinki neighbourhood of Vuosaari.

They’re all places that right wing agitators – including US President Donald Trump – have branded as “no-go zones”.

In the case of Vuosaari, the myth has been amplified by Finnish politicians and websites after a spate of vandalism and anti-social behaviour by younger children.

The picture they want to paint is that Vuosaari’s lawless streets are controlled by gangs of immigrant youths, where local – white – residents are afraid to venture.

Police say it’s simply not true.

“I don’t understand why people keep saying this is a no-go zone” says Superintendent Jari Taponen from Helsinki Police.

“No-go zone originally means that the police can’t go to a certain area, because it’s so violent, and as you see, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Me, I’m alone here, standing here with you, and there’s no problem” he tells News Now Finland.

The east Helsinki neighbourhood hit the headlines recently after a rash of petty vandalism, that police say was carried out by bored pre-teens. This included smashing windows, stealing shopping carts, and harassing local residents.

It didn’t take long for the megaphone of the Finnish right – and some people on social media – to attribute the incidents to immigrant-background children. But police say there’s white Finnish kids caught up in the vandalism too.

Helsinki Police Superintendent Jari Taponen, August 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

“Vuosaari is one of the neighbourhoods where the immigration, people who have an immigrant background, is about 30% I think, on average” explains Superintendent Taponen.

“If we are now talking about these kids who are behaving badly there are immigrant background people [kids] and also let’s say original Finnish background youngsters” he clarifies.

Social media comments 

The debate was sparked, in part, by a post on the Vuosaari community Facebook page by Petter Saarva who wrote about an encounter he had with a “youth gang”.

Saarva says that he took pictures of a “couple of dozen teenagers” acting badly, and that they surrounded and threatened him.

In his post, Saarva complains there were no police around, although a bystander called emergency services for help.

The original post received hundreds of comments on Facebook, some confirming a problem with groups of young people in Vuosaari causing vandalism especially hanging around the Columbus shopping centre; and complaining the nearest police stations are too far away in Pasila or Tikkurila.

Other comments blamed lack of parental control for the problems; while some people said there should be more emphasis on youth outreach work in the neighbourhood.

Superintended Jari Taponen agrees that a lack of services for young people during school holidays is a part of the issue.

“It’s summer holiday now and the youth club is closed, and that’s one problem. But they’re spending time here in the shopping mall, they get together here, and sometimes they are very noisy I have to say, and when they behave bad we and the other adults will intervene. Normally we talk to them and sometimes we have to take them home [to their parents]” Taponen says.

“I think one important thing is to provide safe adults for the kids to spend time with them. One thing of course during summer holidays this youth club is closed now […] it might be good if it was open” he adds.

File picture of Vuosaari metro station / Credit: News Now Finland

Right wing reaction 

The incidents attracted the attention of right wing politician Junes Lokka, who lives more than 600km away from Vuosaari, in Oulu.

“Emergency centre congested, police do nothing. Knock-out game ends when Soldiers of Odin get there” Lokka wrote on Twitter, referencing the anti-immigrant vigilante group.

It’s not clear if Lokka has ever been to Vuosaari.

“Immigrant ‘ethno gangs’ rampant, bullying children […] and threatening rape and other violence if attempts are made to tackle these swine. Police promise to take the donuts out of their mouths for a moment, and take photos with the gangs” wrote Hommaforum, a right wing Finnish website which routinely features immigrant-critical content.

Police say they’re constantly working on community outreach to improve trust between officers and local residents, especially youth.

“Sometimes youngsters they behave bad. But we shouldn’t be ready to blame them as criminals or dangerous people” says Taponen.