How will we treat Ukrainian refugees in Finland?

by , under Enrique Tessieri

The interior ministry estimates “tens of thousands” Ukrainians moving to Finland as a result of the war in that country, according to  Yle News. There are about 7,000 Ukrainians in Finland, but Anna Rundgren, a ministry of interior senior specialist, believes that the actual figure is several times higher.

In 2015, the country saw a record influx of people coming here. Thirty-two thousand four hundred seventy-six asylum seekers, mainly from Iraq (20,485) and Afghanistan (5,214), came to Finland in that historic year. The country’s first wave of refugees was in 1921 when some 6,500 Russians from Kronstadt island in the Gulf of Finland fled the Bolsheviks.

Any sensible person should understand that the Ukrainian newcomers are an important human asset to the country. If we want to make Finland their new home, we must also treat them with respect and be vigilant so they will not fall prey to human trafficking and exploitation.

Read the full story here.

The treatment that some Iraqis, Afghans, and other non-EU asylum seekers received in Finland from 2015 was shameful in some cases. In May 2016, Migrant Tales, Rovaniemi-based daily Lapin Kansa, and the asylum seekers of the Kolari asylum reception center forced the Red Cross to fire the deputy manager of the camp Jari Sillantie.

Apart from liking on Facebook far-right anti-immigration sites like Finnish People First, it’s not surprising that asylum seekers at the Kolari reception center alleged racist treatment by him.

Apart from the treatment of some asylum seekers, there were many question marks about how the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) processed asylum applications. Furthermore, the far-right Perussuomalaiset (PS)* party formed part of Prime Minister Juho Sipilä’s government (2015-2019) and was instrumental in tightening immigration laws for asylum seekers in 2016.

If tens of thousands of Ukrainians are coming to Finland this year, the question is if the Finnish Immigration Service and Finland have learned from the mistakes of the past?

The biggest challenge facing Finland today as tens of thousands of Ukrainians come to Finland is how they will form part of our society. If Finland treats the newcomers like they did the Iraqis and Afghans, it will show that we have learned very little.

Thus our ever-growing culturally diverse community in Finland should inspire us to look outside of our small national sandbox. Will we become as a society more hostile to difference as our culturally diverse communities grow? Or will we grant them their rightful public space?

Will we continue as now to label their children and grandchildren as “people with foreign backgrounds?” Will we understand that “Finnishness” should be synonymous with inclusiveness? Will we learn that treating people with dignity and respect are much better than with suspicion and racism?

These are some questions we should seriously ask and resolve as tens of thousands of Ukrainians come to Finland, their new home and do everything possible to avoid the pitfalls of 2015.