Open letter to the Finnish political elite

After the latest soundbites from mainstream Finnish politicians regarding their stance against immigration and their apparent lack of hard knowledge of the subject, I decided to set the record straight.

With the help of Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus), it was not difficult to find the exact numbers of immigrants living in Finland as of end of last year.  The breakdown in the chart below.

As you can see, 155k people of foreign citizenship live here (2.9% of the population and one of the lowest proportions in Europe).  Of those, 34k are refugees, i.e. 22% of all foreigners in Finland and 0.64% of the total population of the country.  Therefore, it is ridiculous to keep on mixing refugees with immigrants if they are only one fifth of the total amount of foreigners living here. By the way, that most demonised group of all, the Somalis, are less than 5k people in the whole country.

Now, after a little dose of facts, let’s tackle the 3 statements that have caught my attention lately:

  • “Maassa maan tavalla”: This phrase, part “In Rome do as the Romans”, part “Love it or leave it” was uttered to great effect by the leader of the Finnish Social Democrats.  She went further on to talk about the need for foreigers to obey the law and learn the language.  My first problem with this statement is not its content, but its patronising tone.  When you move abroad you know you will face new situations and have to adapt to your environment, which does include learning at least some of the local language.  Following the law is also part of this process (who wants to move thousands of kilometres at a considerable cost only to end up in jail?).  Furthermore, my second concern is related to the fact that Finnish laws and Finnish customs are not the same thing. Are we a tolerant enough society to accept people who look, dress and sound different as long as they contribute to society and pay their taxes, or is there an ideal of Finnishness they need to adhere to?  Have we agreed on what that ideal is?
  • Immigrants coming to Finland take jobs from Finns:  Eero Heinäluoma, another SDP figure, took this cheap stab recently in an interview, further saying that if there is racism it’s because there aren’t enough jobs around.  Let me get this straight: first we’re worried that foreigners (that “very homogeneous” group including e.g. IT workers, PhD students and people with low education from all over the world) don’t contribute to society and live off social security, then we’re worried because they have jobs?  Furthermore, Mr. Heinäluoma doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp of elementary economics: the amount of jobs available is not fixed, it fluctuates with supply and demand. In a functioning market economy such as Finland’s the more people employed means an increased demand for other products and services, generating a ripple effect accross the market.  As one of the Ilta-rags joked, the only thing he was missing was saying that “foreigners steal our women“.
  • Ville Rydman’s views on immigration: I’ve been meaning to comment on the platform of this young National Coalition Party leader for some time.  He mentions that recieving skilled migrants is challenging as Finland would be depriving developing countries of talent, while opening the doors to unskilled migration will create an uneducated underclass.  He’s wrong on both measures: skilled migrants earn experience in Finland that can later be transferred to their countries of origin, while unskilled ones have here educational opportunities probably unavailable for them otherwise.  I personally know examples of both.  He then reveals his true colours by saying that immigrants should integrate “fully” to Finnish laws (which is fine) and Finnish ways (discussed above) while expressing that multiculturalism is both wrong and dangerous, without amplifying much further on either statement.  If you simply don’t want people coming here, then why don’t you say so straight up and stop the posturing?

These are only 3 recent examples from 2 mainstream parties, but also certain Centre candidates share the same views (Paavo Väyrynen anyone?) and obviously our “friends” the True Finns are the reason why this whole brouhaha started, after their critical stance of immigration won them many votes in the last elections.  With the economy in the doldrums we knew immigration, with its demostration of the fear of otherness, was going to be an easy target to fish votes and unfortunately were not proved wrong.

Finland deserves better politicians (and politics) than this.

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7 thoughts on “Open letter to the Finnish political elite”

  1. This is an insightful story on how political parties like the SDP are using the immigrant-bashing card for their opportunistic goals. It is also on their behalf an insult to the immigrant and refugee community in Finland Keep up the good writing. Writings like yours help clear the air of all the hysteria found in today’s immigration-refugee debate.

  2. You forgot an important figure in your statistics: a national unemployment rate above 9%.

    According to a news item published today, unemployment among the 15 to 24 year olds is of 25.5%. That’s a huge number and these are people who are precisely at the point of choosing a professional orientation, the one group most needed right now.

    I quite agree with what Eero Heinäluoma said (if he’s been correctly translated), it is indeed common sense that inviting more immigrants to take Finnish jobs will result in more racism. It’s easy to prove since it has happened in other European countries before, where some right-wing extremist parties have been enjoying an unusual success during elections (France, Austria, and just recently Hungary). Whether it has merit or not, when the unemployment rises too high (near or above 10% it seems) and discomfort grows, working foreigners will be the first group to be blamed.

    There’s already a feeling of uneasiness in Finland with those construction companies hiring cheaper workforce from Estonia. What’s needed right now is not to open the door to immigration it’s to get those unemployed people to learn and do the jobs that matter. You cannot have job positions filled without reducing unemployment or sooner or later bitterness will turn into social unrest.

  3. Interesante tu post. No sabia que la poblacion de Finland era tan pequena. Aca hay elecciones en Mayo y el tema de inmigracion se toca, pero creo que los tres partidos principales coinciden en que es necesaria, solo quieren regularla. Los tres coinciden que que solo quieren aceptar a gente calificada que venga fuera de la EU, pero no se ponen de acuerdo respecto a la inmigracion europea.

    Creo que las sociedades multiculturales son mas aceptadas en los paises que fueron/son imperios y tuvieron/tienen colonias (geografica y economicamente hablando)


  4. @Enrique: Thanks for your comments. Greatly appreciated.

    @sanjuro: Welcome to the blog. Youth unemployment is indeed a huge challenge, and something that has been unfortunately exacerbated by the current crisis. I graduated from engineering right at the end of the previous crisis in 2003, so I went through a similar situation. However, the ease by which somebody from abroad can immigrate to Finland and get a job is greatly exaggerated (or minimised) depending on the aims of the person commenting. Interestingly, there are 240k people currently unemployed, but 52k open positions with a 7k increase compared to last year ( How do you explain that mismatch?

    @Pantaleón: El fenómeno de la inmigración en este país es sumamente reciente, entonces aún cuando la proporción es ínfima la sociedad no sabe qué hacer con ella. Si a eso añades la experiencia histórica de este país con las influencias del exterior (guerras con Rusia, etc.) entonces no extraña que el enfoque sea tan negativo. Eso no justifique que no tenga que cambiar.
    .-= chivacongelado´s last blog ..Open letter to the Finnish political elite =-.

  5. Thank you for an interesting posting!

    I have also been visiting Tilastokeskus’s websites every now and then.

    I think using citizenship is a wrong way to measure the amount of people with immigrant background. I think native language is better.

    For example, there might be only 5000 people with Somali citizenship, but there are more than 10 000 people with somali as native language, which is the true size of that ethnic group in Finland.

    Nevertheless, you are right in saying that these numbers are not at all high.

  6. On point 2, a similar debate has been had in the UK. Like here, perhaps your politicians should also look at how many Finnish citizens are living overseas and “taking” jobs from people in other countries. It normally balances out but yet politicians never count that but use grubby xenophobic statements to get votes.

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