Helsinki officials and Somali community groups ponder youth crime issue
Somali organisations fault officials for splitting up families too easily
Representatives of the police, social services officials, and organisations representing the Somali community are scheduled to meet this week to ponder the situation of a group of young Somalis caught committing robberies in the centre of Helsinki.
Police in Helsinki have investigated 550 robberies or attempted robberies, 120 of which are believed to have involved perpetrators with a Somali background.
Most of the suspects belong to a group of about 20 youths between the ages of 17 and 20.
"The individuals are known to us. Now we need to focus on the prevention of new cases", says deputy police chief Jari Liukku.
Said Guled, information officer of the Somali League in Finland, says that the perpetrators are young people who have been marginalised, and who live outside of their family communities, for all practical purposes. As family disagreements come to a head, they have either left home, or have been thrown out. Now they live in various institutions, or special youth apartments.
Social welfare officials, on the other hand, say that most of those suspected of committing robberies live at home with their parents.
"Not a single Somali young person lives on the street. Saying something like that would be an easy way to avoid the problem. We cannot turn our backs on these young people", says Mukhtar Abib, a social welfare official specialised in issues involving immigrants’ families.
Everyone agrees that the core of the problem for the families is the pressure of living between two different cultures.
Parents try to hold on to their traditional family units, rules, and culture, but outside the home, the young people live a very Western life.
There are disagreements on how the problem has been dealt with.
Somali groups feel that young people who find themselves on a collision course with their parents are too easily taken into a youth apartment, or a youth shelter.
"I do not want to downplay the real problems of the families, but some of the young people know how to take advantage of the system. If there are problems at home, they will call the social welfare office, which arranges a new place for them to live", says Said Guled.
He says that more social workers are needed who understand both the Finnish and Somali cultures.
"All that the shelters provide is food and lodging, and nothing else. When the young people do not live at home, they become marginalised and join gangs", says Mohamed Abdillahi of the Somaliland Development Association.
Social welfare officials insist that children are not taken away from their parents for frivolous reasons.
"That is nonsense. In whose interest would it be to take a child into foster care? It is always a difficult and expensive measure, which is resorted to only when everything else has been tried", says Mukhtar Abib.
Abib also says that Helsinki has made special efforts to recruit social workers with a Somali background.
The problem is that many of the parents do not speak Finnish, and take a suspicious view of Finnish culture and social services.
Said Aden, who works as a consultant on immigrants’ issues in the east of Helsinki, says that many Somali families are unfamiliar with the array of social services available. As a result, problems faced by young people are sometimes not addressed in time.
"The problems then come to light through the police, when the young person shows symptoms and commits crimes."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Police arrest main suspects of stabbing in Helsinki (4.10.2005)
Helsinki youth with Somali backgrounds tired of constant suspicion (2.10.2005)
Somali League in Finland