Finland: Somali taxi driver beaten and threatened in Lieksa
Somali-born Abdi is the first dark-skinned taxi driver ever to be hired in Lieksa, North Karelia. A week ago, after two months on the job, he received death threats and was verbally abused and physically assaulted after his night shift. Police are investigating the incident as a racist crime.
Abdi (full name undisclosed) moved to Finland in 2008. He ended up in North Karelia after first living in Turku and Oulu. He attended school at the Lieksa Christian Community College and currently studies at a vocational school. He started driving a cab two months ago.
That’s when Abdi became the first dark-skinned taxi driver in the history of the town of Lieksa. The new cabby’s arrival immediately ruffled feathers in the taxi drivers’ community.
”Someone called me at once saying ’What the hell, you’ve hired a somali!’” says entrepreneur Pauli Meriläinen, who gave Abdi his job. ”The person on the other end said he wanted to know what was going on.”
Local customers were also baffled by Abdi’s presence behind the wheel.
”Whenever I drive my taxi, the first comment anyone offers is usually that I am a black man driving a cab,” says Abdi himself. ”They ask me where I got my driver’s lisence and so on. There are a lot of racist people here. But I don’t think everyone in Lieksa is the same.”
Insults, death threats and a beating in one night
The first two months of Abdi’s contract went fairly smoothly, not counting the occasional verbal confrontation. But over the second weekend of November, everything changed.
Abdi says he was driving his taxi in the centre of Lieksa on Friday night. His night shift was just beginning, and Friday nights are busy.
Early in the evening a man flagged Abdi down and asked to be driven far away from the centre. Soon Abdi had to bring him back, however, as the man threatened to kill him.
”After I started driving he also kept calling me the N-word the whole way,” Abdi says. ”I turned back and brought him back to the centre, where the man refused to pay for his trip.”
Abdi then called the police and informed them of the incident. His shift continued without incident, until all the restaurants in the centre closed.
In the small hours, Abdi picked up two out-of-town men who were on their way to a remote location. On arriving at the destination one of the men got out, claiming to retrieve cash.
”He got out of the car, stopped at the house door and told me to come and get the money,” Abdi recounts. ”I told him I would not. Then he said if I wouldn’t get out, he would kill me. Finally he came back to the car, grabbed the steering wheel and tried to hit me. He then dragged me out of the car and hit me over the head with an object. There was a lot of blood; he threatened to kill me again, and tried to throw me in the river.”
”I got away at last, got into the taxi and locked all the doors. The whole thing took about 15 minutes,” Abdi says.
Assaults on drivers rare, says Taxi Federation
Police are investigating the assault as a racially motivated crime and as assault and battery, unlawful threatening and misdemeanor fraud. Police also say that investigating the night’s events is difficult, as the taxi did not have a security camera.
”The courts will determine the exact course of events later,” says Antti Arponen from the Eastern Finland police. ”But it is a terribly sad case. For someone to want to work, and for this to happen to them.”
The Finnish Taxi Owners’ Federation says they consider the incident extremely unfortunate. The Federation says that assaults on drivers are very uncommon.
”Yearly there are very few,” communications chief Katja Saksa says. ”We don’t have any hard statistics, but it’s rare alright.”
Abdi says he has decided to stop driving his taxi, at least at night. He says he wants to move away from Lieksa.
”I got a job, and I want to pay taxes,” he says. ”I want to pay for my daily needs myself, with my own money. I want life to go forward. But in Lieksa, I am afraid.”