Demonstrators — including one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — attack bus transporting asylum seekers in Finland
Finland’s government condemned a racist protest in which demonstrators — including one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — attacked a bus transporting asylum seekers in the early hours of Friday.
Public broadcaster Yle showed images of around 40 protesters — some with burning torches — throwing fireworks at a bus transporting asylum seekers, mostly families with children, to a new reception centre in the southern city of Lahti.
One of the protesters could be seen dressed in a white hood, a symbol of the racist American Ku Klux Klan, with a Finnish flag in his hand.
They also threw stones at Red Cross volunteers, although no one was hurt at the incident.
Prime minister Juha Sipila condemned the attack on Twitter, saying «threats and violence against asylum seekers and migrants are absolutely unacceptable.»
«Finland’s government condemns last night’s racist protests against the asylum seekers who have come to the country. Violence and threatening behaviour is always indefensible,» a government statement said.
The police held two protesters after the incident and said they were likely to face fines.
«The protesters were young people from Lahti… At this point we have no indication that they would be somehow organised,» chief inspector Martti Hirvonen told the Finnish news agency STT.
A further three buses with asylum seekers are expected to arrive from the northern Finland border town of Tornio on Friday.
Another incident took place late on Thursday in Kouvola, in south-eastern Finland, when a 50-year-old man was arrested after throwing a petrol bomb at an emergency housing facility for asylum seekers. The fire was quickly extinguished and no one was hurt.
Mr Sipila this month offered to take in refugees at his home, a move that attracted international attention but also criticism in Finland.
«Sipila’s noble-minded gesture was like a Christmas gift for human traffickers and refugees. The news about open doors in Finland have sent many young men on a journey towards the promised land,» Mika Niikko, a deputy from anti-immigrant party The Finns, formerly known as True Finns, said last week in a statement.
Jaana Vuorio, head of Finland’s immigration agency, said that from the beginning of 2015 alone 11,263 people have sought asylum in the country, compared to just 3,600 in the whole of 2014. She added that on Thursday, 521 people — the highest number yet — had entered via Sweden.
On Saturday some 500 people formed a symbolic human wall in Tornio — which shares an open border with its twin city Haparanda in Sweden — to protest against the arrival of migrants from Sweden. No incidents were reported.
The Finnish government has launched random border checks and identity checks around the country amid the influx of refugees.
Finland was the only European Union state to abstain from this week’s vote about relocating asylum seekers across the member countries. It accepted its two percent share of 120,000 asylum seekers in question but said it was opposed to a mandatory quota system.
The government is looking to lower asylum seekers’ cash benefit, now 316 euros (£230) a month for a single adult without meals, and aims to cut social integration benefits.
It is also planning to increase capital gains tax and income tax on high earners to help pay for higher immigration costs.