Finland Counts Hundreds of Human Trafficking Victims, Mostly Immigrants

While the majority of human trafficking victims in Finland become prey abroad and are identified in the process of seeking asylum, the country's immigration service said this phenomenon was not strictly linked to immigrants.

The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, has counted some 600 suspected human trafficking victims who receive assistance from the authorities in Finland. Counting the suspected victims’ underage children, the number of human trafficking victims rises to 800, national broadcaster Yle reported.

Migri stressed that the number of people receiving advisory services has nearly tripled in recent years, and victims themselves are the ones reaching out for help. The number of new cases uncovered since the beginning of the year is four times higher than last year.

The groups most often assisted by Migri’s human trafficking victims assistance programme include Somalis, Nigerians, Afghans, and Iraqis. About 23 Finnish citizens are receiving support in the system.

"We are seeing rising numbers of human trafficking here in Finland, and it is not only linked to immigrants", the head of Migri’s assistance system for human trafficking victims, Jari Kähkönen, said.

The majority of the victims become prey abroad and are identified in the process of seeking asylum, through interviews with police, immigration authorities, and reception centre officials.

Human trafficking in Finland is often linked with cases of forced labour, most notably in the construction, restaurant, and cleaning sectors. A recent investigation by the national newspaper Helsingin Sanomat highlighted that some Finnish cleaning firms are ruthlessly exploiting workers, who are forced to work long hours without proper breaks or adequate pay. Abusive practices were also uncovered in the field of berry-picking.

According to Migri, the key features of human trafficking are targeting vulnerable individuals and the victims developing dependent relationships with their captors.

"Human trafficking has been identified among Finnish drug users as well as in prisons. They are people who are in some way in vulnerable positions and are therefore tempting to traffickers in many ways", Kähkönen explained.

However, there have been markedly few convictions for human trafficking in Finland, partly due to the burden of proof. Kähkönen stressed that investigations into human trafficking are lengthy. For instance, the Helsinki police are currently investigating an extensive human trafficking and sexual offence case centered around writer and director Veijo Baltzar, who is suspected of aggravated rape and human trafficking from 2016 to 2019. Formal charges in the case are expected to be pressed by late autumn.

The maximum sentence for aggravated human trafficking is just 10 years in prison.

The police said they have plans to set up a separate unit focused on investigating human trafficking.

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