A far-right citizens group is creating chapters across Finland to keep “our women” safe. They are calling themselves the Soldiers of Odin and patrolling the streets.
As reported by The Washington Post, about a dozen of these vigilantes gathered on January 22 for their first patrol after asylum seekers were suspected of committing a series of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve.
Spread across cities in central and northern Europe, the attacks included almost 400 complaints of sexual harassment in Cologne, Germany, as well as 15 alleged sex-related crimes in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.
According to the newspaper, critics say the danger is vastly exaggerated and denounce the attacks as the work of a few bad seeds. Yet asylum seekers concede that some in their ranks have a steep learning curve to accept progressive Western European norms, especially regarding women. And fresh reports of alleged sex crimes suspected to have been committed by asylum seekers are now emerging in Finland, including several alleged rapes that predate the New Year’s Eve crime wave.
In Tampere, more than 4,000 asylum seekers, mostly from war-torn Iraq, arrive over the past six months. There have been more than 50 incidents of sexual assaults, including rape, reportedly involving asylum seekers during this period.
Helsinki police confirm there has been an increase in rapes during the latter half of 2015, coinciding with a surge of 32,000 asylum seekers to Finland.
“We still need more specific information and analysis before we can say that there is a connection between the increase in rapes and sexual harassment cases and the increase in the number of refugees,” Helsinki police Chief Lasse Aapio was quoted as saying by The Washington Post. “But we need to be alert, and of course we are worried, because it’s obvious that we’re facing some changes in our society right now.”
Meanwhile, a group protesting against the patrols organised by the Soldiers of Odin ambushed the vigilantes. They were dressed as clowns and called themselves “the Loldiers of Odin” (a play on the Internet shorthand for “laughing out loud”).
At one point, the clowns – most of them women – surrounded the men and taunted them by singing a local version of “Ring Around the Rosie.”
In other related news, the Associated Press said the Soldiers of Odin claims the group numbers 500 members. They raised their profile on social media after reports that Finnish women were harassed on New Year’s Eve.
So far, the Soldiers’ patrols have been uneventful – they haven’t had any encounters either with asylum-seekers or with the police, according to the Associated Press. But they have created debates on social media and radio and TV shows and have worried officials.