One autumn evening a middle-aged man in Kouvola got drunk, took a taxi to a local refugee emergency housing centre and tossed a petrol bomb at the door. The flames failed to spread into the building and he was immediately apprehended.
Over the autumn and early winter months around a dozen cases of arson, arson attempts or other kinds of attacks have been seen at planned or functioning refugee reception centres or emergency housing facilities. Furthermore, reception centres have been hit by vandalism, such as a case where holes were drilled into the roof of one centre. Many of the culprits are still at large, but most of those who have been caught tell a tale very much like that of the fire bomber in Kouvola.
In addition to perpetrator of the attack in Kouvola, people suspected in strikes against centres in Siilinjärvi, Ylivieska and Oulu have been apprehended and interrogated by police. All are men. With the exception of the case in Kouvola, all are young. In every case, the perpetrators were intoxicated to a greater or lesser degree when they carried out the attacks.
According to police, even though the attacks have been similar and taken place within a short span of time, these actions have not been part of an organized plan.
“Acts like these often feed off each other. When one takes place, someone says – well, let’s do the same in our area,” explains Police Inspector Tommi Reen.
There is no evidence that different perpetrators have been in contact with one another. There are no indications of ties to radical racist groups such as the neo-facist Finnish Resistance Movement.
“It can even be called an individual whim with alcohol being an influencing factor,” says Reen.
Another common factor is apparently a racist world view. Attacks against refugee reception centres are automatically classified as hate crimes.
Previous to the attack in Kouvola, the perpetrator had written and shared racist and anti-immigration texts on social media. According to one person questioned by police, just as he was being apprehended, the man had written that “the next time the [petrol bomb] bottle should be bigger and those darkies should be killed”.
Speech and writings are of significance in sentencing. The man whose arson attempt failed in Kouvola received a relatively tough sentence of one year in prison. The length of the time he will serve in prison was in part determined by the racist motive which was easy to establish in court, as the target was a refugee centre.
Others brought to trial for similar offences can expect similar sentences.
“I would say that it [the firebombing of a refugee reception centre] is directly the type of case that legislators had in mind when racist motives were noted in Finnish law,” explains Kimmo Nuotio, Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Helsinki.
At trial, the Kouvola arsonist defended his action as a protest against the government’s refugee policy. This is an argument that the courts will hardly swallow, according to Professor Nuotio.
“Anyone can present this kind of scenario, but jurisprudence is practical, that means motives are interpreted through actions. If someone throws a petrol bomb at the wall of a refugee reception centre, then indeed I believe that there are indications of motive,” says Nuotio.