‘Soldiers of Odin’: Finnish anti-migrant group with ‘extremist features’ takes to patrolling streets

A group that call themselves the "Soldiers of Odin" demonstrate in Joensuu, Eastern Finland, January 8, 2016 © Minna Raitavuo
Far-right militia groups are assuming police functions by patrolling the streets in Finnish towns housing asylum seekers. The “Soldiers of Odin,” who always dressed in black jackets, claim they are protecting native Finns from immigrants, Reuters reports.

Finland’s authorities have become increasingly concerned with the group’s activity, as its numbers have grown to hundreds. While it is claimed that the group is not supported by the majority of Finns, the anti-migrant, anti-Muslim group reflects the discontent of many Europeans with the continent’s unprecedented refugee crisis.

The group has around 500 members across the country, according to Finnish paper Karjalan Heili.

“We woke up to a situation where many different cultures met. It caused fear and concern in the community. We started to gather a bunch of people,” one of the organizers, Mika Ranta, told Finnish daily Aamulehti. “The biggest issue was when we learned from Facebook that new asylum seekers were peering through the gates of primary schools, looking at young girls.”

The “Soldiers of Odin” group was named after the chief Norse god of war and death. It was founded in late 2015 in the northern town of Kemi, which is located near the border community of Tornio – a popular entry point for immigrants and refugees coming from Sweden.

Its members argue that they are the eyes and ears of the streets, since police are not doing enough to provide security to the locals.

The group accuses “Islamist intruders” for increasing crime and distributes placards reading “Migrants not welcome.”

Although pinpointing a rise in crime rates takes time, Finnish police have reported cases where “men with a foreign background” harassed women during the New Year’s celebrations in the country’s capital of Helsinki, as well as other public events during the fall season.

Police documents also reveal that reported cases of sexual harassment in Finland nearly doubled from 75 to 147 in the last four months of 2015, when compared to the same period a year ago. However, the files provide no information in terms of the ethnic background of the criminals.

The Finnish government and police have expressed concern over the “Soldiers of Odin,” which has far-right leanings and neo-Nazi supporters. The authorities fear that citizens could be inspired to take on police roles.

“There are extremist features to carrying out street patrols. It does not increase security,” Finnish Interior Minister Petteri Orpo told national broadcaster YLE last week. “Volunteers have no right to use force,” he said.

There have been no reports of clashes between immigrants and the “Soldiers of Odin” thus far.

“Attacking is not part of our principles, only defense,” three members of the group from the eastern town of Joensuu told Aamulehti. “Everyone has the right to defend themselves if we are attacked. We defend ourselves and call the police,” they said.

In 2015, Finland accepted over 30,000 asylum applications, mostly from Iraq, according to immigration services.

In the meantime, Finland has been trying to curb the number of refugees reaching the country from Germany via the Baltic Sea, with Finnish shipping company, Finnlines, increasing identity controls.

Finland is not the only Nordic country trying to limit the number of arriving asylum seekers.

This week, Denmark said it was beefing up controls on its southern border with Germany, while neighboring Sweden said it will increase controls for the first time since the 1950s. Meanwhile, Danish MPs have overwhelmingly supported a bill which would allow local authorities to strip asylum seekers of cash and valuables worth over 10,000 kroner, which the country deems excessive for refugees and the unemployed.

Sweden also approved new measures to cope with the refugee influx in December, claiming the state has reached its maximum capacity to accept refugees, according to Sweden’s Migration Minister.

The Swedish ruling center-left coalition confirmed that regular ID checks on every transport route leading to the country will be introduced early in 2016 as it struggles to cope with an unending inflow of refugees seeking to enter in the Nordic state.

Moreover, the Swedish government has been working on a bill that would allow it to close the Oresund Bridge connecting it to Denmark as an emergency measure. 

Denmark has received about 18,000 refugees so far, while Sweden is expected to take in around 190,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Amid attempts to curb immigration flows, far-right anti-migrant groups have been gaining in popularity. In a recent poll, three in five EU citizens said they do not approve of migrants coming from outside the continent.

In Germany, the anti-Islam Pegida movement based out of Dresden has provided a loud voice for those unhappy with the immigrant situation, though it is still considered marginal.

In Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have been gaining traction in the polls, despite being described as “xenophobes” and “racists” by the media.