The fear and insecurity of religious minorities in Finland is increasing, especially with regard to the security of the premises where they hold their meetings and services.
Issues and concerns related to the security of the premises of religious communities have emerged internationally in recent years as a result of terrorist attacks against them.
As for Finland, the threat has at least been made public in the annual report of the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service (Supo).
In view of that reality, in July 2020 the Ministry of the Interior set up a working group tasked with identifying security threats to the premises of religious communities.
The report produced by this group of experts was released on Friday by the department headed by Maria Ohisalo.
Conducted in the form of an online survey, the study explains that some members of religious communities noted that their sense of security is undermined because of the prejudices, fears, threats and different kinds of hate speech they have experienced.
The survey was carried out as an online survey sent to all religious communities operating in Finland. A total of 309 responses were received.
The responses show that roughly three in four respondents (74%) feel that their religious premises are safe. But that percentage includes the responses given by Christian communities, which are the majority. The percentages of people expressing fear and insecurity increase greatly when the results regarding minorities, particularly Muslim and Jewish, are analyzed.
Troublemakers, hate speech
“Yet there are noteworthy differences between different religious groups. Almost 93% of Christian respondents felt safe in the vicinity of their church and other religious premises. However, only 69% of Muslim respondents and only one third of Jewish respondents felt safe near their respective religious premises," says chairman of the working group Tarja Mankkinen, who is Head of Development at the Ministry of the Interior.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, the respondents indicate that their lost sense of security was due to factors such as troublemakers or other disturbing behaviour in the vicinity of the religious premises, inadequate transport arrangements, poor lighting or lack of lighting outside such premises, and vandalism, including defacement of walls or other property damage.
Some members of religious communities noted that their sense of security is undermined because of the prejudices, fears, threats and different kinds of hate speech they have experienced.
“Almost half of the respondents felt that hate speech on the internet affects their sense of security. Half of the respondents also pointed out that because of online hate speech they no longer visit their own religious premises as often as they used to,” says Mankkinen.
The survey also revealed that one in five respondents have encountered violence or a threat of violence inside or in the vicinity of their religious premises. In particular, violence has been experienced by members of Finland’s Jewish communities, representing 40% of the respondents.
The report also lists proposals for improving the safety and security of such premises.
“The users of religious premises wished that their communities would have in place clear safety plans, crisis plans and rescue plans. They also want to have training on security issues,” says Mankkinen.
The respondents moreover felt that the security of the premises could be improved for example by installing video surveillance or door entry alarm systems or hiring security guards; keeping the doors locked, avoiding being alone, drawing up clear safety guidelines and escape routes; and by reporting and intervening on unsafe situations.