By Enrique Tessieri
The role of accepting refugees in remote municipalities as a way of slowing the number of people who move out of the community is a half-way solution to the challenging demographic problem facing many parts of Finland. While there is a lot of good will to accommodate refugees in their municipality, many of these people end up moving to bigger cities like Helsinki after short stay.
One of the problems why refugees and immigrants avoid small municipalities or stay a short while is because there are few opportunities, jobs and near-nonexistent immigrant community.
Another important matter that encourages such refugees to move out of such municipalities when possible is the lack of a clear idea by city officials of what these people’s role is in the community. Directing them to their umpteenth Finnish-language course, employment office or to The Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) are not effective ways of dealing with the issue but a method of brushing the problem under the rug.
While some municipalities do a better job than others at integrating refugees and immigrants, those that do a poor job are the ones who do no envisage any “real” place for them. By “real place” I mean hiring refugees and immigrants to work for the municipality and doing everything possible that they’ll work, invest and raise their families in our community.
Mikkeli (pop. 48,676) is a municipality located about 230km northeast of Helsinki. It’s a typical city that faces serious demographic challenges (aging population) and needs outside investment to create more jobs. What makes matters worse is that the city does not have any concrete plan or roadmap on how it plans to meet these future demographic and economic challenges.
Believe it or not, Mikkeli has no international director coordinating such efforts except for the assistant mayor.
Some estimates see Finland needing by 2040 two million immigrants to maintain the same age structure it had in 2007, when 17% of the population was over 65 years. Since such a large number of immigrants are needed to maintain the present age structure, the role of immigration can only slow the process of aging at municipalities like Mikkeli.
In the region of Etelä-Savo where I live, 2040 is already here in some municipalities. In Puumala, 29.3% of the population is over 65 years while the average for Etelä-Savo is 22.7%. In Mikkeli, 19.1% of the inhabitants are pensioners.
In many respects the rise of an anti-immigration party like the Perussuomalaiset (PS) comes at a very bad moment for Finland and regions like Etelä-Savo.
If local authorities are struggling to figure out the big picture for refugees and immigrants in their respective municipalities, they have to deal as well with ever-growing nationalism and anti-immigration sentiment.
Hiding one’s head in the sand is not a solution. Smaller municipalities throughout Finland need not only a viable plan that will promote mutual acceptance, respect, equal opportunities and most importantly jobs for refugees, immigrants and their local inhabitants, they need to implement such a plan now.