A former hotel in the Asikkala village in the south-central Finnish region of Päijät-Häme was set ablaze at one am Saturday. Plans were underway to use the building as a reception centre for asylum seekers before the holidays.
“The security guard told me that someone had tried to start the building on fire,” the owner of the hotel property, Kalevi Gran, told Yle.
The Häme police department later confirmed that they suspect the fire was started intentionally. They also said they have no leads as to who might be behind it.
Päijät-Häme Rescue Services fire chief Harri Kittelä said the fire was quite small and easily contained and extinguished. There was minimal fire damage, but the smoke spread widely and caused relatively more destruction. As far as the authorities know, no one was injured in the fire.
“Two people were sleeping at the other end of the building, but it is a large facility so the smoke didn’t even reach that area,” said Kettelä.
Local opposition is strong
Opposition to the slated asylum seeker reception centre has been strong in Asikkala. Last weekend another fire started by unknown assailants destroyed the hotel’s stairwell.
A demonstration in protest of the plans to use the hotel as an asylum seeker centre had been arranged for Saturday afternoon.
Over 200 people participated in the demonstration, which took place at Asikkala's Vääksy municipal centre. The protest was peaceful; participants said the protest was not linked to the incidents of arson in any way.
Senior investigating officer Jari Kiiskinen of the Häme Police feels strongly however that local insurgency is behind the arson.
“I doubt there are people moving around Finland setting fire to reception centres. It is more likely local village inhabitants that are to blame,” he said.
Interior Minister Petteri Orpo unequivocally condemned the attack Saturday morning during an Yle TV1 appearance. He said that if the perpetrators are found, the incident will be prosecuted as a criminal offence.
Orpo also said the radicalisation of certain elements of the Finnish population considerably weakens Finland's ability to cope with the asylum-seeker situation.