The Situation of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Finland, SOSTE seminar report

Etusivu / Uutiset / The Situation of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Finland, SOSTE seminar report

SOSTE and ICSW Committee of Finland and Finland’s Social Policy Association hosted a seminar on 21.5.2024 on the situation of asylum seekers and refugees in Finland. The three-hour crash course painted a somber account on where Finland is heading.

Globally, the UNHCR has estimated in 2022 that there were 114 million refugees. This number is expected to rise to 250 million by 2050 due to impact of the climate change. Currently there are 6,4 million Ukrainians, who have fled their country and an additional 17 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. What is the situation in Finland, and what should be done?

Finland on the path to a much stricter immigration regime

According to Associate Professor Hanna Tuominen, the European Union, since 1999, has increasingly begun coordinating immigration policies. But the outcomes of member countries regarding asylum have varied a lot. The tendency of an aging Europe is towards conservatism, and there are rising tensions on this issue. The main tendencies are to see immigration from security, containment and externalization perspectives. The main focus of the EU, has been to turn the tide of immigration back to the countries of origin.

Stricter policy measures have gained steam in the Finnish political landscape from the obvious “instrumentalization” of asylum seeking by Belorussia and Russia on the borders of EU countries. The Conservative Finnish government led by Prime Minister Petteri Orpo of The National Coalition Party is an example of this stricter direction by the European Union. The Government Program aims to fulfill only the minimum requirements set by the European Union regarding asylum seeking thus scaling down the current procedures and assistance, which already have been strict in Finland.

Eveliina Lyytinen from The Migration Institute of Finland spells out what these stricter measures mean. Refugee status will be shortened and dismantled. The criteria to gain citizenship will be made stricter. Resources for integration shall be cut. Having the possibility to change status as an asylum seeker shall be removed (e.g. changing status from asylum seeking by study, research, work placement, or voluntary work). Granting border control officers the right to stop asylum seekers on the border without detention and the due process. These proposals are framed as a security issue, but in reality, this will become the new normal for all immigrants and asylum seekers.

What are the principles for successful integration?

In her presentation Annu Lehtinen, Finnish Refugee Council, called for international coordination and responsibility in concert with local solutions to the tackle the forced migration issue. The root causes of forced migration are poverty, social instability and lack of social rights, which have an international context in addition to local politics.

Bahar Mozaffari also called for a holistic approach to social integration. This would entail understanding social integration as a multifaceted process, which not only includes the individual and local community, but incorporates a larger framework including the family, local communities, organizations, civil servants and the whole of society. Communication within these networks is crucial. Individuals must be active. These networks must accept an engrained dynamism reacting to arising and changing needs. This will involve also the sharing of information and resources to make integration more efficient and comprehensive. The interplay must recognize that there are individual needs, which must be balanced with collective needs.

Refugees might face obstacles relating to employment or entrepreneurship, education, lack of economic resources or social networks, cultural differences, political, legal restraints and lack of representation. There can be experiences of racism, and social isolation and/or imported cultural restraints such as family pressures which hinder integration. These issues must be recognized and addressed with a holistic approach involving all stakeholders.

According to Lotta Mäkipää of the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), 2/5 of immigrants had experienced discrimination in Finland during the last year. Most immigrants still feel more attached to their homeland then Finland but the majority follow both Finnish and their home countries’ news.

The seminar was rounded off by Yelizaveta Babina, from Ukraine and Sara Shirazi from Iran. Yelizaveta Babina lost everything from her past life in Ukraine, but refuses to see herself as a victim, and she is doing her best to learn the Finnish language and fulfill additional requirements on top of her two degrees she had done in Ukraine. Finnish education system does not necessarily recognize degrees from abroad. Sara Shirazi came to Finland as a migrant (not as asylum seeker) and told that the her main barrier was the opening of a bank account in Finland; it took over a month to set up for an Iranian citizen. Both women work at Startup Refugees NGO and expressed their strong desire to learn Finnish language, to work and to build a life in Finland. This is the sort of momentum and motivation that we in Finland should build upon for successful integration.

Jukka Haapakoski
Executive Director, The Finnish National Organisation of the Unemployed
Vice Chairman, International Council on Social Welfare of Finland