The parliamentary elections are coming soon and the political machines of Finland are running at full tilt.
This will be the first time that I will be eligible to vote in the national elections and as a relative newcomer with no political affiliation I found myself wondering who I should vote for.
There are all kinds of issues to consider, but during this election season, immigration and immigrants have been among the hottest topics out there, with every political party offering their own party lines and solutions.
As an immigrant, this subject hits uncomfortably close to home now that populist politics has reared its ugly head. At times it seems like everyone is willing to jump on the immigrant-bashing bandwagon in the hopes of raking in a few more votes. I decided that before I vote for anyone, I need to know just where exactly they and their parties stand on the immigration issue.
I could have surfed through the official statements that every party has published on their respective websites, but when making important decisions such as for whom I am going to vote for, I prefer a more hands-on approach when gathering information.
With this in mind, I embarked upon a modest little project to try and find out just where the various political parties and their candidates stand on the topic of immigration. I decided that the best way to go about this would be to send an email to all of the political party offices as well as to various politicians, both locally and nationally.
At the heart of my email was a central point regarding the issue of immigrants and immigration: All too often it seems like the immigration discussion focuses on refugees and refugee issues. The reality is that most of us who have chosen to immigrate to Finland are here because of love, work, or study. In my own case, I relocated to Finland because I married a Finn. I have been a productive, taxpaying member of society for most of the time that I have lived here. There are many immigrants out there who have had the same experience as I have. We work, we pay taxes, and we raise our children to be a part of Finnish society.
I then posed the following questions: Why has there been no focus on this silent majority in the immigrant community?
Why has nobody asked us what we feel would be the most effective manner for the government to assist immigrants in the integration process?
Why should I as an immigrant cast my vote for any of the candidates fielded by your party?
At this point, every party has answered my email, with the exception of the Pirate Party of Finland (Piraattipuolue). Here are some excerpts from the responses that I received and have translated for your convenience:
Yrjö Hakanen, Finnish Communist Party (SKP):
“Thank you for contacting us. The Finnish Communist Party’s position on immigration can be found in the following referendum which was approved by the Finnish Communist Party National Congress: (For the common interests of immigrants and workers, Finnish Communist Party National Congress, 15.-16.5.2010: – 08.06.2010). The document states that we would like to solve these issues together with the immigrants and we want to focus on the common interests of workers born in Finland, the economically disadvantaged, as well as immigrants”.
Jorma Uski, True Finns (Perussuomalaiset):
“According to our recently published party election platform, your questions can be boiled down to this basic principle: Immigrants that come to work and are able to support themselves and their families are welcome. Those “asylum shoppers” who are merely pursuing Finnish social security benefits are not. Finland simply cannot afford to be the world’s welfare office. According to our understanding, this is not approved by foreigners who live here either, since these fortune hunters blacken the reputations of those immigrants reputation and cause conflicts with members of the native population.”
Peter Östman, Christian Democrats (KD)
“In addition to integration, immigrants ultimately want to feel that they are at home in Finland rather than abroad. Integration is promoted when and immigrant is treated primarily as a person who has the same rights and obligations as native Finns. In the coming years we will need immigrant labor as our populations ages and the labor force grows smaller. Immigrants bring with them diverse human, social, and cultural capital, including language skills. These skills and knowledge must be used purposefully for the common good.”
Jutta Urpilainen, Social Democrats (SDP):
“The Social Democrats promote tolerance and freedom. We are also Finland’s most international party. It is to Finland’s advantage that we our workforce receives fresh creativity and expertise. Those who have moved to our country provide us with services and create new businesses. Migration to Finland and from Finland to other countries is a part of internationalization. People should be provided with more effective pathways to integration and employment. “
“I feel that we need more input from immigrants in decision-making. For example, there are no immigrant members of parliament. Hopefully this situation will change as soon as possible. “
Andreas Elfving, Swedish People’s Party (RKP):
“We feel that Finland needs a proper immigration policy, we need more immigrants, and we see (immigrant) culture as a benefit, not a threat. Finland has always been a country to which immigrants have moved, and immigrants such as the Fazers, Sinebrychoffs, and Finlaysons et al have brought Finland innovation, jobs, and enriched Finland over the years. In today’s world, Finland must be an open society which anyone would want to be a part of.”
Olli-Pekka Niskanen, National Coalition Party( Kokoomus):
“The National Coalition Party has a candidate in the parliamentary elections who is of immigrant background, Lulzim Voca. It would probably be beneficial for you to discuss this with him; I think that you would have a lot in common to talk about.”
Sini Korpinen,National Coalition (Kokoomus):
“Although immigration-related problems, as with any other phenomenon, must be discussed openly, rather than focusing on the threats alone, we should focus on the possibilities.”
“We must dedicate sufficient resources to integration in order for it to succeed. Currently the resources required for language instruction, for example, are not always sufficient. In our opinion it is important that the immigrant is able to participate in and adapt to Finnish society while at the same time retaining connections to their own language and culture.”
Anni Sinnemäki, Green Party (Vihreät):
“The Green’s position on immigration is both positive and realistic. We consider it normal and desirable that people from around the world migrate to Finland for work, marriage, or to seek asylum, and thus a better life.”
“Concerning the integration of immigrants, we consider the most important factors to be employment and language skills and Finnish society should provide assistance to those who have migrated here. Also important is the general social climate, people in general should be treated with respect and dignity.”
Maia Fandi, Green Party (Vihreät):
“What bothers me is that in politics and public debate, attention is often given to the beginning stages of the immigration process when life however goes on after that. I feel that we should talk about immigration policy rather than the broader politics of multiculturalism. What happens after a country has, in one way or another, changed? What will life in all segments of society look like five, ten, or fifteen years later? What kind of opportunities does the next generation which grows between two cultures have? How can we help them so that we can avoid the type of situation that we see happening now in France?”
Pauliina Maukkonen-Kärkkönen, Center Party (Keskusta):
“We have also tried to take immigrants into account while planning our political objectives. For example last spring when our party was preparing its election platform, we sent our ideas out to various organizations, including immigrant associations, and received very positive feedback. We plan to continue with these types of actions in the future also, so that the voice of the people is involved in our political strategy in other ways than just through our members of parliament.”
If you would like to see the responses that I received in full (in Finnish), please see my blog: willielahti.blogspot.com