Police in Finland are this week conducting immigration spot checks aimed at uncovering undocumented migrants. The checks will focus in particular on traffic hotspots, to coincide with a general police crackdown on drivers using mobile phones, not wearing seatbelts and endangering pedestrians at crossings.
The nationwide action is one of three planned each year, with every police department participating in the spot checks. The stepped-up surveillance is nothing new, according to Chief Superintendant Mia Poutanen.
"We've been announcing these immigration spot check weeks for a year now as part of our spot check communications, just to increase transparency and reduce the mystique," said Poutanen.
The 'mystique' stems in part from opposition among ethnic minorities, which normally peaks during the weeks of stepped-up checks. Suldaan Said Ahmed is a Left Alliance councillor in Helsinki who was born in Somalia and feels that the stepped-up surveillance unfairly targets immigrant background people.
Guidance prohibits ethnic profiling
After previous immigration spot check weeks he has raised the issue inside Helsinki council, but the final power to decide on the measures rests with the police.
"It is ethnic profiling," Suldaan told Yle News. "A lot of people have asked me why they were stopped based on their colour, and that doesn't work. Some of my friends who've been living in Finland since they're 2 years old have been stopped by police while on their way to work or a meeting and asked for ID, and they feel that the police are simply wasting their time and victimising them."
Last year, Finnish police apprehended just under 3,000 individuals regarded as undocumented migrants. The majority of those are asylum seekers who made their asylum applications inside the country, and did not have the right documents to enter the country.
Poutanen denies the charge of ethnic profiling.
"We have immigration spot-check guidance, which encourages police to act in such a way that nobody would feel they're treated differently to anyone else," said Poutanen. "Our rules are clear and the law is clear, ethnic profiling is banned."
Police crave diverse recruits
The National Police Board says they hope complaints are made about any possible mistakes or misconduct in immigration enforcement, so that they can be dealt with.
The National Police Academy organises several training courses each year on the topic of immigration enforcement, but Poutanen told Yle that she hopes for better diversity in recruitment as well.
"We in the police have as an aspiration and a target to recruit more ethnic minorities and immigrants, so that we have police who are not from an ethnic Finnish background," said Poutanen. "It's a desirable phenomenon, that we'd have police looking like the population at large."