The Finnish government has condemned rising street patrols linked to neo-Nazi groups who have appeared in many Finnish towns in recent months, claiming to protect citizens from refugees.
Several people, mostly describing themselves as “Soldiers of Odin,” in reference to an ancient Germanic and Scandinavian god, have been patrolling Finnish towns where reception centres have recently opened for newly arrived refugees.
The patrolling increased after a 17-year-old refugee was arrested for allegedly raping a little girl in Kempele last November. This incident caused authorities to uncover that, in over 1,000 rape cases reported to police last year, an estimated 10 refugees were suspects.
On the "Soldiers of Odin" website, the group accuses "Islamic intruders" for rising insecurity in Finland and asks for the "patriotic and critics of immigration" to take part in their activities.
"There are extremist features to carrying out street patrols. It does not increase security," Finnish Interior Minister, Petteri Orpo, said in an interview with national broadcaster YLE.
"Volunteers have no right to use force," he added.
Some street patrols are related to far-right movements, including neo-Nazi groups, according to National Security Police.
"Attacking is not part of our principles, only defence. And everyone has the right to defend themselves if we are attacked. We defend ourselves and call the police," three members of a patrol group in the eastern town of Joensuu were quoted as saying in a recent interview with the local paper, Karjalan Heili.
They said that their group had nearly 20 members in Joensuu and up to 500 in the entire country.
A refugee who has been dwelling in the Joensuu region for five months said that he and his friends did not come across the group.
"I think it's a crazy idea. There's the police and other authorities doing their jobs well. It's a kind of militia," said 27-year-old Safi Kamil from Baghdad, drawing a comparison with militia groups active in his native country.
Finland took over 32,000 refugees in 2015, mostly from Iraq. This accounts for the fourth biggest amount of refugees taken in among European countries.