Migrants queue in front of a refugee reception centre in Tornio, Finland on September 25, 2015
Helsinki (AFP) - Volunteer street patrols linked to neo-Nazi groups have emerged in several Finnish towns in recent months claiming to protect locals from what they call "Islamic intruders", a trend the Finnish government condemned on Thursday.
"There are extremist features to carrying out street patrols. It does not increase security," Finnish Interior Minister Petteri Orpo said in an interview with national broadcaster YLE.
"Volunteers have no right to use force," he added.
Unarmed groups of men, most identifying themselves as "Soldiers of Odin" in reference to an ancient Germanic and Scandinavian god, have been seen patrolling in at least five different towns where reception centres for newly-arrived asylum seekers have recently opened.
There have been no reports yet of incidents between the civilian patrols and migrants.
Some patrol groups have been photographed by local media clad in black jackets and hats marked "S.O.O" for Soldiers of Odin.
In 2015 the Nordic nation of 5.4 million inhabitants received over 32,000 mostly Iraqi asylum seekers, the fourth highest amount in Europe per capita and nearly 10 times more than Finland received in 2014.
Contacted by AFP, one of the founders of the group, Mika Ranta, declined to be interviewed.
- 'Like a militia' -
On its website the group blames "Islamic intruders" for increased insecurity in Finland and calls on the "patriotic and critics of immigration" to participate in their activities.
"Attacking is not part of our principles, only defence. And everyone has the right to defend themselves if we are attacked. We defend ourselves and call the police," three members of a patrol group in the eastern town of Joensuu were quoted as saying in a recent interview with local paper Karjalan Heili.
The trio said their group had around 20 members in Joensuu and up to 500 in the entire country.
One asylum seeker who has been living in the Joensuu region for five months said neither he nor his friends had encountered the group.
"I think it's a crazy idea. There's the police and other authorities doing their jobs well. It's a kind of militia," said 27-year-old Safi Kamil from Baghdad, drawing a comparison with the militia groups active in his native country.
According to the National Security Police (Finnish intelligence services), some of the members have links to far-right extremist movements, including neo-Nazi groups.
The number of patrols began to rise after a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan was taken into custody for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl in the town of Kempele last November, leading authorities to reveal that around 10 asylum seekers were suspected of rapes among the more than 1,000 rapes reported to police in 2015.
But another alleged rape case on December 26 in the western town of Ylivieska quickly proved false after police revealed that a woman had made up the story about "two dark men" raping her.