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Minorities ombudsman raps police for raids on “ethnic restaurants”

Police say they targeted "restaurants that do not serve Finnish food". Most were found to have violated some sort of labour law.

Eva Biaudet is a former OSCE human-trafficking official and health minister. Image: YLE

Finland’s state-appointed Ombudsman for Minorities, Eva Biaudet, has questioned raids by police and other authorities on what they called “ethnic restaurants” in western Uusimaa.

“This time we checked restaurants where the owner or owners had foreign background, in combination with whether they served ethnic food,” explained Chief Inspector Minna Immonen of the West Uusimaa Police.

“Background information on all the owners or people in charge was collected in advance. Most of them were fast-food or similar places. Restaurants that do not serve Finnish food are considered ‘ethnic’ by the police. Of course we also monitor Finnish restaurants. But this is also a question of resources,” she added.

Out of 52 eateries in eight municipalities targeted in the crackdown, 26 were fined for working hour infringements, such as not having regular shift lists posted. One undocumented immigrant was detained.

Problems at 41 out of 52 eateries

Only 11 restaurants were given a clean slate. One of them was a pizzeria run by Nazar Ali in Ekenäs (Tammisaari), a predominantly Swedish-speaking town some 100 km west of Helsinki.

He told Yle that he lost a considerable amount business because of the high-profile raid by six officials from the police, Border Guard, tax administration and the occupational safety department of the local Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment. Unlike during a similar investigation in Sweden where he previously ran a restaurant, he and his customers were treated disrespectfully, he says, adding that anyone who “looked foreign” in the premises was forced to show an ID.  

Probes based on skin colour or food type?

Biaudet says that by taking part in the actions, the police violated their own regulations forbidding ethnic profiling. She also says the motivation and goal of the operation was unclear.

 “Of one cannot carry out an investigation of foreigners simply based on skin colour or what kind of food one serves,” she told Yle. “It appears that police have not really followed their own directive. It says that this can never be the basis for this kind of investigation.”

Biaudet commented on the case of Nazar Ali, saying that authorities must take such complaints from the public seriously.

“No official operations justify unpleasant behaviour, but it is not discrimination in and of itself,” says Biaudet. “However it’s not enough that the police themselves are aware that they do not intend to be discriminatory – it’s also important that those people who are the target can be sure that they have not been selected on discriminatory grounds.”

Biaudet is a former Minister of Health and Social Services, presidential candidate and OSCE special representative on combating human trafficking.

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