Thursday, September 24, 2015

"I was a refugee before" - a campaign in support of refugees in Finland

The humanitarian crisis sparked by a massive influx of asylum seekers to Europe dominated headlines, again, around the world after the body of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on Ali Hoca beach in Turkey. The crisis gave birth to campaigns by people of good conscience around the world to show solidarity with asylum seekers. One of such campaigns is the "ennen olin pakolainen" (before I was a refugee) online campaign in Finland. The social media campaign, which can be followed on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #ennenolinpakolainen, gives former refugees a platform to tell their stories and show what they have become.

A lot of negativity surrounds the humanitarian crisis faced by Europe. The negatives include outrageous statements by European far-right politicians like Finland's Foreign Minister and anti-immigration Finns Party leader, Timo Soini, who said he's not ruling out the idea of European countries prioritizing Christian asylum seekers over Muslims, and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who claimed his country does not want more Muslims. The outrageously discriminatory rhetoric and the plight of asylum seekers stuck in a train station in Budapest for days dominated headlines across the world. But positive stories abound; stories that go to show that contrary to widespread misguided stereotypes about asylum seekers many of them integrate well into their new countries and go on to be responsible members of society.

The #ennenolinpakolainen campaign in Finland, according to MTV news, has been around for sometime but was brought to the fore again. The campaign's Facebook page states that its purpose is to show that refugees are not just numbers on a paper or a liability to society. Through the campaign former refugees tell what they do in Finland these days. The list of former refugees in the campaign showcase many people with a variety of skills and professions, including students, entrepreneurs, engineers, nurses, social activists and politicians - notably a member of Finland's Eduskunta (parliament).

Participants in the campaign, according to Yle, also include a bio-analyst and a former refugee who's set to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin.

My view

According to Ita-sanomat, the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign originates from Denmark. But to me it really doesn't matter where it originates from. It's a magnificent campaign that debunks archaic refugee stereotypes that still linger in modern-day European countries. Among refugees, like among any other group of people in society, there are hardworking individuals with dreams - dreams of becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, teachers, police officers, just to name a few. Among refugees are people who could, if given a fair chance, become remarkable citizens.

Unfortunately, the narrative that refugees are a liability to society is popular albeit being prejudiced and baseless - as evidenced by initiatives such as the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign. Some bigoted individuals claim that Muslim refugees should not be welcomed because they cannot integrate. This is, without a doubt, false. Participants in the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign are largely from Muslim countries, and they're doing a good job integrating in Finland.

I've read many of the stories told by former refugees through the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign on Fcaebook and Twitter. Needless to say, many, if not all of the stories, are inspiring tales of talent, skill and resilience. Take, for example, the story of a refugee boy who moved to Finland at the age of 11 and now plays professional football and captains the Finnish U21 national team. Or the girl who moved to Finland at the age of 5, learned the Finnish language, went to elementary school, completed university as a construction engineer and now works for an international company. Or the story of the boy who left Somalia and is poised to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin. Or the story of the young man who has lived in Finland for 5 years and is now studying in a university of applied sciences to become an aircraft technician.

Amazing stories.

Drawing from the aforementioned, it's short-sighted and somewhat narrow-minded to consider refugees as a mere expenditure or liability to society. They have a lot to offer if given a fair shot.    

Monday, August 31, 2015

Petition to save development cooperation in Finland

The aim of Finland's development policy, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, is "to support developing countries' efforts to eradicate poverty and inequality and promote sustainable development". In contradiction to this policy, the country's government has massively slashed development cooperation funding -  a move that some people in the country feel would "kill the NGO sector" and adversely affect the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. The steep cuts raised concerns among civil society organisations, and prompted a petition telling Finland's government that harsh cuts would adversely affect the world's most vulnerable people.

Following general elections in April 2015, a new government comprising the Centre Party, the populist anti-immigration Finns Party and the National Coalition Party took power on 29 May 2015 under the leadership of Prime Minister Juha Sipila. The new government will, according to information on the Foreign Ministry's website, cut appropriations for development cooperation by EUR 200 million beginning in 2016. According to the Guardian its a 43% cut in development aid. The Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka claims the cuts are as a result of Finland's economic situation and the need for saving.

Civil society organisations in Finland do not welcome the cuts.

KEPA, an umbrella organisations for over 300 Finnish NGOs launched a petition urging the government to save development cooperation. As of the time of this writing the petition has garnered 31800 signatures.

My view

Concerns by civil society organisations make sense. I share the view that massive cuts - almost 50% cuts would kill some NGOs and negatively affect some of the world's poorest people supported by the good work done by Finnish NGOs around the world. Take the work done by Save the Children Finland for example: over 13000 children in Kenya and Ethiopia supported by the organisation will have their opportunities for basic education weakened or become impossible when the cuts hit - according to an email by KEPA's World Village Festival team. According to the email, which I received through an email list to which I am subscribed, as many as 120,000 children aided by World Vision will be left without help, and Plan Finland's work in Ethiopia against child marriage and female genital mutilation will be ended.

Drawing from the aforementioned, massive cuts would no doubt save Finland some money but would at the same time adversely affect the well-being of children elsewhere. Saving a few euros could be appealing to some people, but working for a more just world makes more sense to a majority of Finns. According to an open letter (in Finnish) to Finland's foreign minister by representatives of Finnish NGOs and civil society, more than 80% of Finns consider development cooperation important.

The foreign ministry recognizes the fact that development cooperation provides millions of people with a chance for a better life, and that over a billion people continue to live in poverty. It is therefore reckless and somewhat selfish to cut development cooperation funding by almost half. Besides adversely affecting millions of people living in poverty across the world development cooperation cuts could also lead to job loses in the NGO sector in Finland since some organisations will have to terminate projects. This could mean lay-offs for some workers in the sector.

Help save development cooperation. Sign the petition.

Worthy to mention that not only development cooperation is at risk in Finland due to cuts. The the government also proposed drastic cuts in education and other sectors.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Olli Immonen: a racist dream

Anders Behring Breivik, the infamous Norwegian terrorist who went on a killing spree in Norway in the summer of 2011 circulated a manifesto online that bears similarities with a Facebook update posted by a young Finnish politician and member of parliament on Friday evening. Like Breivik the MP opposes multiculturalism, and uses explosive words - the kind of words used in other hateful manifestos, including manifestos posted online by people like Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof, the racist who killed nine African Americans in the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

A second-term MP for the Finns Party, Olli Immonen, posted a status update on Facebook on 24 July 2015 in which he made no secret of his extreme-right views. In the status update, the MP whose link to the far-right is well-documented, called for a "fight" against "this nightmare called multiculturalism", and stated that the "ugly bubble" will soon "burst into a million little pieces." In the fiery post, the MP expressed "belief" in his "fellow fighters" and promised to "fight until the end...". He also mentions "enemies" but make no mention of who exactly the enemies are.

My view

Olli Immonen's statement amounts to incitement of hatred against minority cultural, ethnic and religious groups in Finland, and bears stark similarities to rants in dangerous manifestos posted online by mass murderers, including Anders Breivik and Dylann Roof - the so-called "white supremacist" who like Immonen created a us-against-them scenario and ranted online about his desire to "fight" against those perceived to be taking over his country.

In a 1500-paged manifesto, Anders Breivik of Norway strongly opposed multiculturalism, and stated that a multicultural society is "temporary", and that "sooner or later" there'll be a return to a new monocultural society - a stance Immonen seems to agree with. Like Breivik, Immonen beliefs that there's some kind of "war" going on, and that his "fellow fighters" (what Breivik referred to as "cultural conservative resistance fighters") - will "fight" to the very end.

Olli Immonen's distasteful Facebook post is a rallying call and call to arms for xenophobes, islamophobes and racists under the guise of patriotism. The statement is coined to sound like the young politician has a dream  - perhaps like Dr. Martin Luther King. But Immonen's dream is different; it's a racist dream; a dream that pitches Finnish culture and identity against other cultures and identities in the Nordic country.The gullible among his followers could heed the call, and Finland could see a spike in hate crimes as a results.

It's disturbing that it took more than 24 hours - as reported by Yle - for Prime Minister Juha Sipilä who formed a government with the party Olli Immonen represents to weigh in on the MP's scary remarks. Even more disturbing is the fact that the Finns Party's chairman, Timo Soini, is yet to comment on the controversy. The chairman's silence suggests an approval of the message -  an approval which would not be surprising.

Worthy to mention that this is not the first time Olli Immonen's views and conduct have raised concern. The 29-year-old, whose hobbies include shooting - according to his website, posed for a group photo in June 2015 with a group called the Finnish Resistance Movement at the grave of a Finnish nationalist who assassinated a Governor-General in 1904.

The Finns Party that Immonen represents in parliament is no stranger to controversies linked to racism and incitement of hatred. Although the party's leadership repeatedly claims, after each scandal, that outrageous statements by its MPs and Councillors do not represent the party's stance one thing is undeniable: birds of a feather flock together. And if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

Search this Blog

Related Posts with Thumbnails