Over 90,000 Finns have signed the petition demanding the expulsion of foreign sex offenders, with the number of signatures skyrocketing in recent days after a new series of child sex abuse cases were unearthed in several cities across Finland.
Still, despite surpassing the minimum number of signatures by a wide margin, the chances of it being considered by MPs are rather slim, as the current Finnish centre-right coalition government has only its final few months left, with a general election scheduled on 14 April, thus leaving the MPs short on time to review it. Furthermore, according to existing rules regarding citizens' initiatives, petitions launched under previous administrations cannot be presented to later ones.
The issue of foreign sex criminals has blossomed in Finland in the past couple of months, after police in the northern city of Oulu reported a series of alleged sexual assaults of girls as young as ten by foreign men, all of whom had come to Finland as asylum seekers or refugees, some from the Middle East.
Soon after those initial reports, Tampere resident Saila al-Jewari launched a petition urging parliament to enforce legislation that would allow the authorities to immediately take foreigners convicted of sex crimes into police custody, followed by stripping them of their Finnish citizenship and deportation. In addition, the initiative also proposed that foreign sex crime convicts should never be permitted to apply for Finnish citizenship regardless of what country their crimes had been committed in.
Al-Jewari explained to the daily newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet that she is married to an Iraqi herself and stressed there is no racial motive behind the initiative, rather the opposite. According to her, citizens must be able to rely on Finland's legal system and on the Migration Board.
The signatures, however, began to pour in massively in the past few days, following a new series of arrests in Oulu and the capital city Helsinki, which triggered stern condemnation from top-ranking Finnish politicians, including President Sauli Niinistö, who called the grooming gang scandal "unacceptable".
As of today, several Finnish politicians, including Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen, are already calling for harsher penalties for foreigners convicted of sex crimes.
"If someone violates one of our basic values, such as the physical integrity of another individual, I consider that a national threat", Mykkänen told national broadcaster Yle, reiterating his idea that foreign dual citizen rapists should be stripped of their Finnish citizenship.
Even right-wing Blue Reform party leader Sampo Terho called for "harsher punishments, more controlled immigration and speedy forced deportations", in effect echoing the citizens' petition.
According to several columnists, including Yle's Ingemo Lindroos, the recent spate of sex crimes will make immigration a key topic of the upcoming election campaign, likely polarising voters between right-wing and nationalist parties, such as the Finns Party, and left-wing parties, such as the Left Alliance or the Greens. She also cited the Swedish example, where the focus on immigration during the recent general election campaign resulted in major gains for the right-wing anti-immigration Sweden Democrats.
Meanwhile, the number of reports of sexual offences against children increased markedly last year, topping 2017 by 18 percent or over 200 cases, Yle reported. According to police inspector Pekka Heikkinen, about a quarter of all reported sexual offences were carried out by persons with a foreign background. When it comes to sexual offences against children, the percentage of foreigners was about one fifth, signalling a clear over-representation.