Seven of out eight regional multicultural centre directors interviewed by YLE say that attitudes towards immigrants have hardened as the economic downturn gathers pace. The surveyed directors head multicultural centres in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere, Kuopio, Mikkeli, Jyväskylä, Kajaani and Oulu. The director from Jyväskylä was the only one who did not report an increase in racist behaviour.
“The notion that there exists a positive attitude towards immigrants is simply a veneer. There’s been no real shift in attitudes. These are issues that have been simmering under the surface for a long time,” says Hilkka Lappalainen of the Mimosa multicultural centre in Mikkeli.
The respondents say they see racism and derogatory behaviour towards immigrants in all aspects of society. The respondents cite employers using Finnish-language requirements in a discriminatory way and teachers employing racist language in the classroom. One respondent told of an incident that involved a teacher telling a pupil that immigrants neither need suffrage nor citizenship since they “don’t vote.” The directors say middle schools in particular should crack down on racist bullying.
Mohamed Mukhtar Abdi, who works at an immigrant youth centre in Helsinki, says he is unsurprised by this summer’s news reports of racist attacks against immigrants. In the past months, reports have emerged of perpetrators defacing an international student dormitory, fights between native Finns and foreigners, as well as of an attack on a foreign newspaper deliverer.
“A recent attack on one of our clients on a bus left him with a chipped tooth. The police are now handling the case,” says Abdi.
The multicultural directors provide many concrete examples of racist behaviour in everyday life: racist groups on the internet, bouncers that don’t allow foreigners into bars, as well as shoves and insults in shops and on public transportation. One of the directors says that immigrants are even blamed for unpleasant smells in apartment buildings.
“Back in the day we were labelled social welfare bums. Now we’re criticised for taking jobs away from Finns. People should understand that the financial crisis is global, and that it only lasts a short time. Let’s hope we get through these hard times together somehow,” says Abdi.