January 13, 2019 / 5:10 PM / 4 months ago

Sex abuse cases colour immigration debate before Finnish election

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The parliamentary heads of two of Finland’s largest parties have called for action after investigations against 19 foreign-born men on suspicion of sexual abuse of minors.

The issue has boosted the support of the anti-immigration, populist The Finns Party, whose popularity jumped two points to over 10 percent in the latest poll published by the national broadcaster YLE ahead of a parliamentary election on April 14.

Police have said there were foreign-born men among the 16 investigated for rape or other sexual abuses of adolescent girls in the town of Oulu over the last two months. On Sunday, police in Helsinki said they had arrested three foreign-born men on similar charges.

Antti Kaikkonen, parliamentary head of the coalition-leading Centre Party, called for a meeting of all the parliamentary party heads, tweeting: “Everyone who comes to Finland has to follow the local laws.”

Antti Lindtman, parliamentary head of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said: “The question is, are there measures we could take now - even during this term - to prevent cowardly crimes like these? Yes, there are.”

Prime Minister Juha Sipila tweeted that the government would discuss the “inhuman and reprehensible events” twice next week.

The topic is shocking for many in Finland, which sees itself as one of the safest and happiest countries on earth.

A citizens’ initiative to withdraw asylum from people convicted of a sex crime has doubled its signatures in just a few days and reached 25,000 on Sunday - half the total needed to force parliament to consider the issue.

The country of 5.5 million people has historically had very few immigrants. But the issue has become more fraught since the European refugee crisis of 2015, which caused the number of asylum seekers to almost quadruple to 28,208 in 2016.

Statistics Finland says around 1,200 cases of sexual abuse of minors are reported to the police each year, and that foreigners were involved in 18 percent of the cases that came to trial last year.

Lindtman proposed toughening the penalties for sex crimes against minors and withdrawing asylum from people convicted of serious violent or sexual crimes.

Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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