HELSINKI: A Finnish citizens' initiative to withdraw asylum from people convicted of sex crimes received tens of thousands of signatures over the weekend and has become an important political issue ahead of this year's parliamentary elections.
Support for the initiative surged last week after several new investigations were launched against foreign-born men on suspicion of sexual abuse of minors.
With elections coming up in April, sex crimes have turned into a heated topic of debate among politicians. Finnish government and parliamentary groups will meet this week to discuss how sex crimes can be prevented more effectively.
"We have to make clear that we have a zero tolerance on this," the initiative said. Any amendments to existing laws can only go ahead if parliament decides to take action.
The crimes began emerging over recent months in Oulu, the hometown of Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila where police suspect 16 foreign-born men of rape or other sexual abuses of adolescent girls aged between 10 and 15.
Helsinki police said on Sunday they had arrested three foreign-born men on similar charges. Two of them were released on Monday.
The initiative had 62,000 signatures by 1000 GMT on Monday, but due to the upcoming elections the handling of it will fall to the next parliament.
"I created the initiative because of the hate speech... I thought someone has to do something," Saila Al-Jewari, who launched it in December after the first abuse cases in the northern town of Oulu made headlines, told Reuters.
"I am not racist, I am married to an Iraqi man. However, at the moment this media-fed hate incitement has led to even me, a native Finn, becoming a target of racist shouting and insulting."
Al-Jewari acknowledged her proposal could well be stopped by human rights issues but said it was worth trying if even one new sex crime could be prevented.
"It really angers me that the politicians are riding this topic ahead of the elections. Does anyone of them think of victims? No. They only think of themselves. Why didn't they do something about the topic years ago?," Al-Jewari said.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki and Anne Kauranen, editing by Ed Osmond)