An extensive investigative report (external link in Finnish) by Finland's largest circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat has revealed alarming shortcomings in how Finnish police handle human trafficking cases.
In compiling the report, HS examined the background to about 100 cases of suspected human trafficking or similar exploitation reported to various police departments all over Finland.
The cases included a mother and daughter allegedly starved and forced to work, a woman forced into marriage who was subsequently beaten and raped, and a construction labourer forced to work without pay and sleep in an unheated caravan.
The paper wrote that police did not investigate many of the cases at all, or that cases were closed after little more than a cursory investigation. It also discovered that reports of suspected human trafficking were left idle for years at a time, making it significantly more difficult to resolve cases.
HS added that it was not taking a position on whether crimes had been committed in each of the suspected cases, as that would be a matter for the police and the courts, but asked whether police had investigated each case thoroughly as required by Finnish law.
Sakari Melander, professor of criminal law at the University of Helsinki, told HS that the report clearly reveals the need for Finnish police to improve investigations into human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.
"These cases provide a broad picture that the authorities do not recognise what human trafficking is," Melander said.
He also noted that cases are often closed without police speaking to the victim of the suspected crime, and asked if it would therefore be reasonable to wonder whether such investigations were carried out to a satisfactory level.
Report prompts launch of parliamentary investigation
Deputy Chancellor of Justice Mikko Puumalainen told HS on Sunday evening that he intended to launch an investigation into the police's handling of trafficking investigations on the back of the paper's investigative report.
"This [article] conveys the message that the investigation of human trafficking crimes is not effective, and that the rights of victims and criminal liability are not realised. These examples give rise to a very strong reason to suspect that the investigations have not complied with the provisions of the Criminal Investigation Act. This matter needs to be clarified," Puumalainen said.
He added that he intends to find out how police officers have acted with regard to the cases in question, and to discover if there are structural problems within the Finnish police force in the investigation of human trafficking cases.
Finland was criticised last year in the '2020 Trafficking in Persons Report', compiled by the US State Department, which found that fewer cases of human trafficking are being taken to Finnish courts than in previous years, leading to fewer convictions of traffickers.
The report blamed a lack of 'specialised government personnel' for the drop in the conviction rate.
The Finnish Immigration Service Migri also reported last year that cases of human trafficking in Finland were running into record numbers.
In response to the HS article, Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) tweeted that the government had established a specialised task force to tackle the problem.
"This cannot be," Ohisalo wrote. "Human trafficking is a serious crime whose victims need help and support, as well as justice via the rule of law. The government has increased its resources for investigating human trafficking by a historic amount and is implementing a comprehensive anti-trafficking programme."