When the term immigrant becomes a red herring

by , under Enrique Tessieri

If there is a report, a story or some tale that sounds fishy it may suggest a red herring. One of these types of stories that should have received more scrutiny from the media was a report published Thursday by Perussuomalaiset (PS)* thinktank Suomen Perusta, which attempted to place a price tag on immigration. 

There are a lot of questions that the 75-page report raises concerning methodology and why the study only mentions refugee, or quota refugee to be exact, once and labels all national groups as immigrants.

The Suomen Perusta report defines “immigrant” as any person who was born abroad but lives in Finland.  Is this the definition that YLE uses in its story? We don’t know because YLE doesn’t tell us.

Does YLE define immigrant in the same way as the UN? The UN defines an immigrant as any person living in a country for over a year irrespective of the reason why he or she moved to another country.

An important question: Why does the PS use the term immigrant and only mentions refugee once? Certainly most Somalis that live in Finland came here seeking asylum. Even so, they are placed in the same group of “immigrants” with Germans, who are EU nationals.

True, the definition of immigrant could generally apply to Somalis but I think it is misleading especially in a study sponsored by an anti-immigration party like the PS.

Näyttökuva 2015-4-2 kello 18.47.04
What are we speaking of in the story? Immigration or refugee policy? Immigrants or refugees? One MP’s opinion or the whole party’s? It’s not clear. The Suomen Perusta report, like the story, raises more questions than answers. Read full story here.

One reason why there are so many questions in the YLE story is because there are a lot of them in the Suomen Perusta report.

Here are some:

  • The Suomen Perusta report uses the term immigrant over refugee for groups like Somalis;
  • The YLE headline states “immigration policy” but shouldn’t “refugee policy” be more exact?
  • If the third vice president of the PS, Juho Eerola, gives an opinion is it only his or that of the party’s?

Michael McEachrane, a researcher and anti-racism activist in Sweden, said that when the term “immigrant” is used in Sweden it is often a euphemism for “non-white” or non-European and most immigrants to Sweden are refugees.

“I think that’s a part of their [Sweden Democrat] rhetoric, plus that what is essential to them is that regardless of ‘immigrants’ being refugees or not whose human rights and lives need protecting they are intruding and threatening the Swedish ‘nation,'” added McEachrane.

The red herring in the YLE story is that by grouping Somalis as “immigrants” it allows the PS to make a stronger case against giving people outside of the EU residence permits on humanitarian grounds.[1] Does it reveal as well the PS’ negative stance against refugees since they claim that their only reason for coming here is to live off our generous welfare system? Absolutely. 

Moreover using the term immigrant permits the PS to place a price tag on certain immigrant groups unfairly without even considering the reasons if the person is a refugee.

Reporters should have given this story more scrutiny and not take the word “immigrant” by the PS-sponsored report for granted.


The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English names of the party adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We therefore prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.

[1] Humanitarian protection as defined by the Finnish Immigration Service: “Reason for granting a residence permit. A permit is granted when the requirements for granting asylum or subsidiary protection are not met but the applicant is unable to return to his or her home country or country of permanent residence because of an environmental catastrophe occurring there, or because of prevailing poor security circumstances there which may be caused by armed conflict or a troubled human rights situation.”









  1. Yossie

    All immigrants are immigrants, some immigrants are refugees. I suppose you are upset about minority S getting called immigrants because in this case it does not benefit them. You want to call them Finns, immigrants or refugees, depending on which would benefit them the best in given situation. It really is semantics that does not matter.

    All form of immigrations should go under evaluation and the cost of it should be assessed. This does not only include economic cost but the social costs: fractured social cohesion, racism, divided ethnic groups and so on. Then we can make informed decision if benefits outweigh the cost.

    You are really delusional if you think the generous welfare system is not attracting refugees. Finland is the far corner of the earth from places the immigrants come. We have high taxes and horrible climate. Why on earth they are making their way here when there is several safe and better climate countries in between? Because of welfare system where the uneducated, illiterate and unemployed can benefit the best. If they want to be employed they can get a job in babysitting their own group as a translators and cultural coordinators or something other job that would not exists without their own group and is government funded.

    Problems I see with taking refugees? It costs a lot of money per person. This is no surprise to anyone. Having to integrate a person with language studies, cultural difference studies, education to qualify for any job, the whole bureaucracy to actually assess if person indeed is a legitimate refugee. It all costs a lot of money. Not to mention causes social problems because the unskilled refugees will be at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. In my opinion better approach is to help the refugees at the refuge camps near their own country. This is cheaper, near their own country there is a better chance immigrants work experience might be more relevant, there would be no need for language or cultural studies nor there would be no risk of immigrants faking to be refugees. Also with having been allowed to immigrate to a rich country, there is no reason for an immigrant to get back home when the situation improves in his own country. In refuge camps, there would be perks to return back to rebuild their own country. Only ones losing are the people who make money with refugee integration, immigrants that fake to be refugees and smugglers.