Finnish police reported on Thursday an unusually high level of sexual harassment in Helsinki on New Year’s Eve and said they had been tipped off about plans by groups of asylum seekers to sexually harass women.
“There hasn’t been this kind of harassment on previous New Year’s Eves or other occasions for that matter… This is a completely new phenomenon in Helsinki,” the Finnish capital’s deputy police chief Ilkka Koskimaki told AFP.
Security guards hired to patrol the city on New Year’s Eve told police there had been “widespread sexual harassment” at a central square where around 20,000 people had gathered for celebrations.
Three sexual assaults allegedly took place at Helsinki’s central railway station on New Year’s Eve, where around 1,000 mostly Iraqi asylum seekers had converged.
“Police have… received information about three cases of sexual assault, of which two have been filed as complaints,” Helsinki police said in a statement.
“The suspects were asylum seekers. The three were caught and taken into custody on the spot,” Ilkka Koskimaki told reporters.
Police said they had increased their preparedness “to an exceptional level” in Helsinki for New Year’s Eve after being tipped off possible problems.
“Ahead of New Year’s Eve, the police caught wind of information that asylum seekers in the capital region possibly had similar plans to what the men gathered in Cologne’s railway station have been reported to have had,” police said in a statement.
Cologne police said they had received 120 criminal complaints by Thursday and quoted witnesses as saying that groups of 20-30 young men “who appeared to be of Arab origin” had surrounded victims, assaulted them and in several cases robbed them.
Mr Koskimaki said police did not see a link between the Cologne and Helsinki incidents.
Shortly before New Year’s Eve, Finnish police also arrested six Iraqis at an asylum residency centre in Kirkkonummi, west of Helsinki, suspected of “publicly inciting criminal behaviour”. They were released on January 2.
According to Mr Koskimaki, the arrests were linked to the information police received in the run-up to New Year’s Eve.
In November, Finnish authorities said around 10 asylum seekers were suspected of rapes, among the more than 1,000 rapes reported to police in 2015.
In 2015 the Nordic nation of 5.4 million inhabitants received over 32,000 mostly Iraqi asylum seekers, the fourth highest amount in Europe per capita and nearly 10 times more than Finland received in 2014.