torstai 14. huhtikuuta 2011

YLE: Immigration Issues: A Pre-Election Glance

YLE News: Immigration Issues: A Pre-Election Glance 12.4.2011

The upcoming parliamentary election has brought the debate about immigration to the forefront of Finnish politics. Parties disagree about what position on immigration the next government should take.

While immigration is unlikely to become the issue dictating the outcome of the election on April 17, it is one of the main topics of contention.

“I would say that we certainly have a lot of such discussion now, as triggered by the True Finns,” adjunct professor Arno Tanner from the University of Helsinki told YLE News.

He notes that the crisis in Libya, the Portuguese bailout and the threat of a nuclear catastrophe in Japan have recently overshadowed the immigration debate in Finnish politics.

Lawyer Ida Staffans from the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre agrees: immigration is one of the most prominent issues in the election campaign—perhaps even surprisingly so.

“If you look at the euros actually going to this area, then of course immigration has an effect on the Finnish budget, but perhaps it does not stand in fair relation to the importance of the subject in the discussions,” she says.

What, then, is the scale of immigration into Finland and how does it compare to EU-wide levels?

The figures

Finland is a more popular destination for immigrants than some EU countries, but the number of arrivals pales in comparison to many western European states.

Immigration graphics (YLE)

A similar distribution is true for asylum seekers. According to Tanner, the number of asylum seekers in Finland has been on the rise, with a particular increase since the 2000s.

Esko Repo, Director of the Asylum Unit at the Finnish Immigration Service, puts the figures into perspective.

“If you compare, for instance, with Nordic countries, we have almost the same level as Denmark, and Norway will get some more, Sweden—much more,” he lists. “And then, of course, there are some countries—Germany, Great Britain, France—that will get a lot, so we are a little country in that way.”

(YLE Uutisgrafiikka)

“Finland is a country that has not during the last few decades led any big advertisements to asylum seekers, so to speak,” says Staffans, explaining Finland’s numbers. “People in the world know that the Finnish language is difficult and that Finland is a country where it’s cold up in the north.”

She adds that Finland's remote geographical location also influences the numbers of asylum seekers in Finland.

Nonetheless, the issue of immigration is inflaming political discussions, with parties taking clearly differing stances on the subject.

Questions of money

YLE election graphics (YLE News Graphics)

Most candidates for the conservative National Coalition Party and the Centre Party—current coalition partners—told the YLE voting guide that they somewhat agree that the rules for allocating support to immigrants should be made stricter. This is consistent with the line of the outgoing government, which tightened Finland’s family reunification laws.

Candidates for the remaining party of the traditional “big three”, the Social Democrats, somewhat disagree with the idea.

Conversely, the newcomers to the big party club—the populist True Finns, whose support saw a meteoric rise over the last year—strongly agree that Finland needs to be more careful in money-management regarding immigrants.

According to Tanner, it was largely the True Finns that triggered the latest discussions on immigration—which, he says, is potentially a good thing.

“This means that also the positive side—the ones who are in favour of immigration—need to give better grounds for their own arguments,” Tanner points out. “So I’m rather optimistic about the future of immigration discussion in Finland.”

“A new challenge”

Staffans says that, on a societal level, openness to immigration comes as something new and challenging for the Finns.

“We have had a quite closed policy, and political discussions in Finland have quite often centred around Finnish themes, and this is something that is new for the society, something that comes as a new challenge to the Finnish society,” Staffans describes.

Tanner says that, partially for historical reasons, Finns tend to tread carefully when it comes to immigration.

“Finns are not ignorant, but rather cautious,” he observes. “Foreign influence has not always been ideal for Finland.”

This could be seen as something of an understatement for a country that has spent much of its history under Swedish or Russian rule and only gained independence in 1917.

The future?

Tanner says that integration of immigrants is one of the main issues Finland faces. The country has recently scored high points on the international Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), which compared integration policies of the EU states, Norway, Switzerland, Canada and the US. Finland came fourth in the rankings, but Tanner says that problems persist on an individual level—particularly due to linguistic difficulties.

Another pertinent issue is labour migration. According to Statistics Finland, a quarter of a million people were aged 80 or over at the end of 2010. Since the large baby boomer generation was expected to have started retiring in 2010, Statistics Finland projected the number of people of working age to steadily fall.

“I’m anticipating the next government to approach this issue of an ageing population and whether and how the labour immigration would be a partial solution,” Tanner says.

Immigration seems to be a topic that has gained a significant place in Finnish politics—one that, in one way or another, has come to stay.

“I think it’s a beginning of a new era for Europe and perhaps for Finland as well,” says Staffans. “This is something that gives a notion of how the world is globalising; Finland cannot be isolated anymore, we will have to see also beyond our own boundaries.”