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Police under scrutiny over racial profiling claims

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman has called on Helsinki police to respond to claims that recent police action has amounted to racial profiling. The Ombudsman says members of the public have complained about being targeted for police checks because of their appearance.

Helsingin poliisi
Helsingin poliisi on tarkastanut ulkomaalaisia ydinkeskustassa.

Police and the Finnish Border Guard have organised a total of four immigration control operations targeting foreigners in central Helsinki. The monitoring exercise allegedly focused on people assumed to be of foreign extraction and involved ID checks.

Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä says she has received complaints about checks targeting foreign nationals, many of whom say they feel they have been wrongly profiled based on their appearance.

The office says it will demand a report from the Helsinki Police Department on its surveillance of foreigners.

Police have right to conduct checks

Legally police retain the right to check whether people from abroad have the right to be in the country. The recent intensification of surveillance measures against foreigners has also stirred feelings of resentment among people following the developments on social media.

"Police have to make sure that ethnic or racial profiling does not occur," says specialist Robin Harms from the Ombudsman's office. "It is completely unenlightened to make assumptions based on skin colour in modern Finland."

When police conduct surveillance of foreigners it should occur openly and according to a precise plan of action. All surveillance should also be documented for later inspection, the specialist notes.

"Nobody should have to experience being chosen for an ID check based on the colour of their skin. If this has happened it is a serious offence and gross misconduct," says Harms.

Checks effective?

Harms also questions the efficacy of police checks on foreigners.

"It doesn't seem resource-effective and this has been done in many places, but only a handful of individuals presented any kind of risk in relation to their stay in the country."

Helsinki police detective Henri Helminen says that immigration monitoring is usually conducted in tandem with other duties. However, in some cases police may do spot checks on people who appear "non-Finnish".

"In these cases we simply ask them whether or not they are foreigners," Helminen says.

No need to carry ID

According to Finnish law, people are not obliged to carry proof of identity at all times. If an individual does not have any ID, police may check their information from a centralised database.

If a person has not dealt with Finnish authorities in the past, their information may not be available. In these cases police may enter a person's home or hotel room to access their papers.

"This depends very much on the circumstances surrounding the encounter. If it's clearly a case of a tourist, then we would hardly start looking for documents," Helminen adds.

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