February 2018-2019: How a Pakistani family in Finland encountered and defied hate

by , under Enrique Tessieri


A year has elapsed since Rashid H., a Pakistani migrant, was brutally attacked by three white Finnish youths in Vantaa on a Friday, February 23. The attack not only changed Rashid’s and his family’s life permanently, what happened also spread fear in the Pakistani community of Finland.

Rashid and his wife Sobia have two daughters aged six and one.

On visiting the couple, one of the matters you notice is not only the past but the future and their will to make the best out of a terrible situation. Rashid is recovering slowly and is on sick leave until the end of 2019.

“Rashid takes two types of painkillers and even Panadol if both don’t do the job,” she said. “On top of that, he also takes medicine for blood pressure and he is a diabetic.”

On the left, a statement by the police about what happened to Rashid. On the right is the profile picture of the new NGO, Anti-Hate Crime Organisation Finland, which founded in September thanks to Rashid and his wife. The picture on the right is of a man who was threatened by the Polish police.He did not want his face to appear in the picture. Source: Police and photo by Enrique Tessieri.

An important part of the recovery and healing process is getting support from psychologists, other health officials, family and friends. “Recovery sessions with the psychologist have helped us a lot but there is still a way to go,” she said.

March 2018

I met Rashid, his wife and daughters the first time at the Meilahti Hospital of Helsinki. With stitches and bruises on his body, Rashid demonstrated a strong will to recover and overcome what had happened.

“When I get out of here and get better,” he said almost a year ago. “I want to help others by telling them what is hate crime and what happened to me so that others could learn.”

The promise he had made at the hospital came true. Rashid and his wife helped found Anti-Hate Crime Organisation Finland (Suomen viharikosvasainen yhdistys ry) in September. On March 21, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Rashid and Sobia will give a talk to students and migrants in Otava near Mikkeli.

The new founding board members of Anti-Hate Crime Organisation Finland. The NGO was founded on September 8 in Helsinki and registered on October 3 by the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH). 

It’s difficult to grasp what happened to Rashid and how he survived. His attackers had stabbed him up to thirty times, fractured his skull with an axe and jabbed him several times with another pointed object. His blood stains were left near the apartment building for twenty days after the attack despite repeated calls by his wife to the social office and police to remove them.

“When we passed the spot where they attacked Rashid,” Sobia continued, “my [eldest] daughter asked me whose blood stains they were. It was a horrible time in our lives.”

The three youths who attacked Rashid were burglars who bumped into him when he went out for a smoke. Fearing that he would call the police, they attacked Rashid and took away his cell phone. The attackers were given in May 9.5-year prison terms and forced to pay 36,000 euros of compensation.

Sobia admits that they are still traumatized and fear going outdoors.

“Who is to say that we would not fall victim to another attack like what happened to my husband,” she said. “We live in near-constant fear and stress.”

Helsinki Times was the first publication to report the incident in February.

“We first got in touch by email with Helsingin Sanomat and Yle but they weren’t that interested,” said a Pakistani who is Rashid’s friend. “Only after Helsinki Times published the story [three days after the attack] did other media start to write about it.”

What happened scared Rashid’s friend as well.

“One of the questions I had was if the same could happen to me,” he added.

Hate crime or not

Sobia, who is doing her doctoral dissertation on inorganic chemistry at the University of Turku, naturally feels sometimes overwhelmed by events and life at home. In the past year, her family moved from Vantaa to Espoo and now live in Turku.

“We could not live in Vantaa after what happened and we ended up moving to Turku in the fall, which is a nice city,” she said.

Sobia and Rashid are thankful to the police for rapidly capturing the attackers and that their court trial happened rapidly. The medical staff also did a terrific job, according to them.

Even so, both Rashid and Sobia have some questions. Nobody except for the police and a representative of an NGO visited Rashid in the hospital and this made him feel abandoned. Both of them aren’t fully convinced that “race” did not play a role in what happened.

“The attack happened on a Friday night and it was the following day when the police contacted me,” said Sobia. “The first thing I asked was if it was a hate crime. They responded that it wasn’t. How did they know so rapidly?”

She added: “If my husband were a Finn, would they have stabbed and attacked him in such a way?”

The police ruled out hate crime as a motive because the attackers had consumed alcohol and drugs and this explained their aggressive behavior towards Rashid.

Initially, the police had charged the three convicts of attempted manslaughter but changed it in April to attempted murder.