Finland shamed as the EU's most racist country in new report

If you think Scandinavia is a bastion of liberal freedom, a damning new report might come as a "reality check".

Finland is the worst place in Europe to be black, according to a closer look at discrimination and racism across the continent.

In contrast, the UK ranks among the countries where discrimination is least likely. 

The report, Being Black in the EU, was compiled by the EU's Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). Thousands of people of African descent in 12 countries were asked about their experiences of racism and harassment.

"People of African descent regularly feel discriminated against in many areas of life, whether on the basis of skin colour, ethnic origin or religion," said FRA director Michael O'Flaherty.

It's been illegal to discriminate on the basis of racial or ethnic origin since 2000, but the report found prejudice was "widespread and entrenched prejudice and exclusion" and the vast majority of incidents are not reported to the police.

"It is a reality both shameful and infuriating," said Mr O'Flaherty.

Almost a third of all those surveyed said they had experienced racial harassment in the five years before the survey was conducted, but results varied.

In Finland, 63 percent said they'd been targeted, followed by Luxembourg (52), Ireland (51), Germany and Italy (both 48).

The lowest rate - 20 percent - was found in Malta, an island with about half-a-million people and few minorities, most of whom are Brits. The UK came second with 21 percent, followed by Portugal (23 percent), France (32 percent) Austria (37 percent), Sweden and Denmark (41 percent).

EU FRA racism graph
Photo credit: EU FRA

Two-thirds of all harassment came from people without a minority background, and most of the rest from people from a different minority.

Racist violence is most common in Finland, with 14 percent of participants saying they'd been attacked some time in the last five years. Ireland and Austria were second-equal (13 percent), followed by Luxembourg and Germany. Portugal and the UK had the lowest rates of racial violence (2 and 3 percent respectively).

Members of the anti-immigrant street patrol group called the Soldiers of Odin.
Members of the anti-immigrant street patrol group called the Soldiers of Odin. Photo credit: Reuters

In its coverage of the report, The Helsinki Times acknowledged racist incidents are on the rise, and that "not only has little improved in Finland in recent years, but that things may actually be getting worse". Earlier this week it reported a far-right group calling themselves the Soldiers of Odin had been intimidating minorities in a local mall where there are several shops operated by Somalis, Kurds and Arabs.

Only one-in-six respondents across the EU who had experienced racial discrimination, harassment or violence reported it to the authorities. The main reason given was that it "happens all the time". Other reasons include nothing would happen, nobody would believe it, fear of retaliation and being afraid of the police.

"Discriminatory profiling by the police... is a common reality," said Mr O'Flaherty.

Aside from direct harassment, the Being Black in the EU report found minorities are far more likely to be turned down by landlords (including by social housing providers) and far less likely to own (15 percent versus 70 percent for the general population).

Slightly more than half lived on incomes below the poverty line in their respective countries, even after welfare entitlements.

Mr O'Flaherty said EU member states need to intensify their efforts to promote inclusion, calling the report a "reality check".