This question keeps on popping up in many recent newspaper articles, on discussion boards and in seminars debating immigration issues in Finland. At the core of the question is a general impression that, between the enthusiastic supporters of multiculturalism and the pessimistic nationalist rednecks, very little constructive discussion is possible in Finland.
At one end, humanitarian help organizations, as well as politicians from the Green Party and the Swedish Folk Party, keep on taking excessively generous initiatives towards refugees and asylum seekers, all while labeling their detractors as racists. At the other end, nationalist candidates in the National Coalition Party and True Finns Party keep on painting every immigrant as a refugee who is abusing social security and label their detractors as turning Finland into the easiest country to abuse social security, at the Finnish taxpayer's expense. In between, candidates from the Christian Democrats and Center Party spread equally among these two camps. Meanwhile, while the Left is currently avoiding discussions on this topic, Social Democrats have previously shown that they tend to side with the nationalists in labeling all immigrants as social security abusing refugees.
One interesting point is that, no matter at which end of the political spectrum one looks, the whole Finnish immigration debate keeps on focusing exclusively on refugees and asylum seekers, despite the fact that migrant workers and foreign spouses of Finnish nationals make up for a good 70% of the foreign population residing on Finnish soil.
This recalcitrance to discuss immigration from any other perspective than refugees is rather painfully noticeable. Some recent examples:
At the Maailma Kylässä ethnic festival, last month, the podium was given to a number of speakers to discuss immigration issues. In once case, Minister of Immigration Mrs.Astrid Thors made an appearance at the tent of Demo, an NGO promoting active participation in the electoral process. Sure enough, Thors repeatedly brought back the issue of refugees, leaving other aspects of immigration completely out.
The next day, on the Mekong stage, a panel discussion was introduced by the MC as "discussing issues that affect refugees", despite the fact that the program read "panel discussion on immigration"... In fairness, the organization sponsoring that particular time slot was the Refugee Help Center but, thankfully, issues brought by the panelists clearly discussed a much broader perspective than merely refugees:
One Estonian-born researcher said that she'd rather avoid putting all immigrants into the same bag, because there's so many different reasons for coming to Finland and few of those have anything to do with seeking asylum and one cannot make any assumption about an immigrant's motives for coming here.
The other panelist, a professor from the university of Turku, astutely said that, if it was up to him, Maailma Kylässä should not exist, because the actual intent of the event is not to give immigrants a chance to be heard, but rather to entertain Finns with exotic culture and food, which is not the right way to make immigrants feel a part of society, in his opinion.
Independent member of the Helsinki City Council, Mr.Jussi Halla-Aho, repeatedly makes the headlines because of his blog's rather controversial statements. Probably his most famous stunt was the day he jokingly declared in his blog that, if the women of the Green Party are so keen on getting more immigrants admitted to Finland, they also ought to be enthusiastic at the prospect of becoming rape victims, cynically implying that immigrants all come from 3rd-world countries where women's rights are non-existent and, correspondingly, where the probability of women being raped is greater.
National Coalition Party candidate at the EU elections, Mr.Kai Pöntinen, used as his campaign slogan a decisively nationalist Sosiaalipummien maahantulolle stoppi! (Stop the immigration of social security abusers). Further reading on his homepage shows a rather misinformed statement, alleging that immigrants are systematically taught Swedish in language trainings offered via the Integration Act:
Myös kotouttamispolitiikkamme on metsässä, on täysin järjenvastaista että tulijoille opetetaan ensimmäiseksi kotimaiseksi kieleksi ruotsia. Kyllä ensiksi on osattava suomea ja sitten muita kieliä.
Reality is that, unless an unemployed immigrant lives in the monolingual Swedish municipality of Närpes or on the Åland archipelago, the only language they can learn via integration measures is ... Finnish.
At a recent "Meet the Immigration Department" seminar at cultural center Caisa, it transpired that the vast majority of the audience and of the employees working for the City of Helsinki's Immigrant Services department came to Finland as refugees. The moderator of the event also came to Finland as a refugee. Can anyone guess what issues were given preference by the moderator during that evening? 12 points go to ... those who answered "refugees and asylum seekers." Was there at least meaningful discussion about any aspect of the immigration process? As the former chairman of a particular Finnish political party's English section used to say:
I will not tolerate this meeting turning into a Wall of Lamentations or a Complaint Choir! Are we here to discuss real issues or what?
What's remarkable about all these examples is how public opinion is so persistently hardwired into thinking that all foreigners living in Finland came here as refugees from 3rd-world countries whose culture is radically different from Finland's and that they all became perpetually unemployed, forever living off social security, to the point that even politicians who ought to know better go along with it.
When will we be able to have a balanced and meaningful debate on immigration, you ask? The day both multicultural hippies and nationalist rednecks will have been kicked off the podium. Of course, it would also help if the refugees themselves stopped monopolizing the podium, whenever the opinion of immigrants is solicited. Then again, perhaps these 3 groups benefit so much from the current status quo that they'd rather not see the day when others can participate in this debate on equal footing with them, so that a balanced and meaningful debate can finally take place?