Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finland's population registry drops racially homogeneous website header

Diversity or lack of it can be manifested in many ways, including on websites. Finland's Population Register Centre (in Finnish: Väestörekisterikeskus) changed the look of its website which was previously adorned with a header that lacked racial and ethnic diversity but showed diversity on other grounds. The site is now without a header.

Photographs displayed on the now-dropped header of the home page of the population registry showed diversity on grounds such as age, sex and gender but lacked ethnic and racial diversity.

I observed and pointed out in a blog post, which I sent as feedback to the population registry in October 2013, that the registry's website excludes visible minorities. The website, in my view, portrayed Finland as a racially homogeneous country -- despite the fact that Finland has its share of visible minorities. I stated in the blog post that according to Statistics Finland, nearly 12 percent of people with foreign origin living permanently in Finland in 2012 were of African descent and about one quarter were of Asian origin. And that in my opinion, the header of the website of the population registry suggested that non-whites were not part of Finland's population structure. I recommended that the header should be updated to include racial and ethnic diversity that is representative of Finland's population structure.

About two months after I sent feedback to the Population Register Centre through the feedback section of its website the header in question was taken off altogether (see screenshot below).

It is unclear whether or not the change was made as a result of my feedback, since I got no response from the centre.

Regardless, I welcome the decision to update the layout of the website -- although I would have loved to see the header updated to show ethnic and racial diversity, not taken off completely.

The population structure of Finland has changed over the past couple of years. It is important that websites of organizations in the public and private sector which use images that appear to have been carefully chosen to show diversity reflect diversity on all grounds, including racial and ethnic diversity. In this age of information technology, websites send loud messages. National institutions and agencies should  pay more attention to the images they display on their websites. A racially homogeneous header on the website of a public agency like the population registry screams exclusion to observant viewers.

It is worthy to mention that other websites of government agencies such as that of Kela, Finland's social insurance institute still blatantly exclude images of non-whites -- the last time I checked. And Kela has numerous images on its website. Such exclusion, in my perspective, is reflective of the level of acceptance of people from different racial, ethnic and cultural groups in broader Finnish society. Acceptance of diversity is critical on moral and economic grounds.

See the header that was taken off, here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Syria: a lost opportunity for the ICC?

The situation in Syria and the lack of concerted international effort at the level of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to bring perpetrators to justice - more than two years on - supports claims that the international justice mechanism targets African heads of state.

The UN's human rights chief, Navi Pillay, directly implicated Bashar al-Assad for serious crimes of international concern in Syria. She said a commission of inquiry has produced evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity authorized in Syria at "the highest level".

It is not the first time a top UN official links president Assad to atrocities in Syria. In September 2013 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon openly accused Assad of committing crimes against humanity.

The ICC was established as a permanent institution with power to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for "the most serious crimes of international concern" - as stated in article 1 of the Rome Statute. The court has been accused of "hunting Africans" while ignoring crimes of international concern elsewhere.

According to a timeline of the unrest in Syria, the conflict started in March 2011 when Syrian protesters demanded the release of political prisoners.

More than two years later, the conflict rages on with no sign of justice for numerous victims of heinous crimes, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Thousands of people have lost their lives.

According to information published by Reuters, the conflict has claimed at least 125,835 lives, more than a third of whom are civilians. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) points out that the real figure is probably higher. The UN reported in July 2013 that more than 100,000 have been killed in the conflict and 1.7 million Syrians forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries. A more recent report shows that 2.2 million Syrians have fled the country and children have been most affected.

In my assessment, if president Bashar al-Assad of Syria were head of state of an African country, the international community's response to the conflict would have been different. The tone of the UNSC would have been more robust and the situation would have long been referred to the ICC. It is therefore my opinion that the conflict in Syria is so far a lost opportunity for the international community to show that the ICC is not designed to hunt African leaders who are "disloyal" to the West and somehow stand in the way of western interests.

Sudan and Libya were not parties to the Rome Statute when the UN Security Council referred situations in the two African countries to the ICC in 2005 and 2011 respectively. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council can refer Syria to the ICC irrespective of whether or not the country is a Party to the Statute. Failure to bring Assad to international justice will, in my opinion, undermine the credibility of the international justice mechanism.

Although I share the view that the ICC has so far focused on cases in Africa, I support the work of the court in the fight against impunity in the region. I would however like to see the court investigate and prosecute crimes of international concern in other part of the world. Selective justice is no justice.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Esko Saastamoinen's "Somali-free" room request akin to apartheid

A lot has been said and written about hate-mongering, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia in the Finns Party, Finland's anti-immigration and nationalist political party. The party's sympathizers and members on the other hand claim that there is a witch-hunt against the party. But news that one of the party's councilors demanded a "Somali-free" meeting room adds to a long list of intolerance-related scandals, and supports the view that the party in fact has racist components.

A Finns Party politician in the eastern town of Lieksa, Esko Saastamoinen, demanded - according to Yle - a new meeting space for his delegation because the current room was also used sometimes by Somalis. Saastamoinen reportedly told the city secretary that his party's councilors might catch an infectious disease if they continue to use the same room with Somalis. Another Finns Party member reportedly said the room should be "fumigated" -- in order to disinfect it.

Somalis, it is worth mentioning, are among the largest groups of immigrants in Finland and according to a poll commissioned by Helsingin Sanomat are among the groups most affected by racism and intolerance in the country. The same poll showed that Finns Party members are most willing to concede negative attitudes  towards minorities. In 2010 and 2011, the risk of unemployment was higher among Somali speakers than among any other foreign language group in Finland, according to Statistic Finland. The Director of Immigration Affairs for the City of Helsinki stated in 2010 that employer discrimination accounts for the high rate of Somali unemployment in the capital.

In my view, Esko Saastamoinen's request for a "clean" room is plainly racist and akin to apartheid and racial segregation. It is reminiscent of a low point in history when blacks were segregated in public transportation, restaurants, neighborhoods, hotels and other public places. The request is despicable and highlights the negative perception of Somalis and people of African descent in modern-day Finland. It speaks volumes about the composition of the Finns Party and what some of its members would like to achieve. The fact that Saastamoinen continues to serve as deputy chairperson of Lieksa city council shows that racist views are tolerated in the party.

I welcome the move by a Somali group in Lieksa to file a criminal complaint in relation to the request by Finns Party councilors, and the decision of the local police to investigate suspected discrimination and incitement against an ethnic group. In my opinion, the request for a "Somali-free" meeting room on grounds that the African group is "infectious" is derogatory, slanderous and amounts to incitement against a vulnerable minority group.

Timo Soini, leader of the nationalist Finns Party said on Hard Talk in February 2013 that there is no strand of racism in his party. The words of high level members of his party, including parliamentarians and city councilors like Esko Saastamoinen debunk his claim. The "true" Finns party, in my view, has racist elements.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finland's immigrants most affected by online hate crimes in 2012

The Police College of Finland (Polamk) annually releases the country's hate crime report. The 2012 hate crimes report shows that immigrants were most affected by online hate crimes in 2012. This revelation is by no means surprising to anyone who follows and participates in or reads comments posted in some Finnish online discussion forums, blogs, social media and news websites - where immigrants are commonly demonized and reviled. 

The police college defines hate crime (in Finnish) as a crime against a person, group, property, an institution or its representative - motivated by prejudice or hostility against the victim's real or perceived ethnic or national background, religious belief or view of life, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or disability.

Out of all the groups vulnerable to hate crime, immigrants were most targeted in 2012. According to Finnish police, 732 suspected crimes were classified as hate crimes by the police academy in 2012. Majority of the hate crimes - 641 cases - had racist traits. Most hate crimes in the previous years also had racist traits and the most common manifestation of hate was through assault. Hate crimes are also committed online.

According to Marko Forss, internet police officer in Helsinki, of all the hate crimes reported last year, 26 were classified as internet hate crimes. Most of the crimes were committed on Facebook and Suomi24 - one of Finland's largest online social networking sites. Most victims were immigrants. Other cases were related to victims' religious belief and sexual background.

It's worthy to note that only a small number of hate crimes are reported to the police - as clearly stated by Tero Tihveräinen, researcher at the police academy. Hence hate crime figures paint an incomplete picture.

In my view, it isn't surprising that immigrants were most affected by hate crimes. Finnish public discourse on immigration is sour -- compounded by the spread of anti-immigration sentiments and extreme nationalism. The media also puts immigrants in harms way by, for instance, highlighting the background of "foreign" suspects of alleged crimes -- while on the other hand not mentioning the background of non-foreign suspects. Ita-Sanomat for instance reported a bizzare home intrusion in Rovaniemi by a "foreign man". The next day, the same tabloid reported another crime in which a man allegedly assaulted teenagers in Vaasa. The background of the man in the second case was not mentioned -- perhaps because it wasn't a foreign man.

In my opinion, media reports that highlight the foreign background of suspects incite negative sentiments against immigrants and perceived foreigners - as evidenced by some readers' comments under the home intrusion Ilta-Sanomat news report. One reader actually commented that, "thank you [Iltä-Sanomat] once more for giving me a good reason to hate...". Such reports go a long way to contribute to the way immigrants are perceived and treated.

I submit that immigrants were affected by hate crimes partly because they are perceived and portrayed as threats to Finnish society. Hate crimes against immigrants would reduce significantly when the media and other players, including members of far-right and populist political parties and groups stop demonizing immigrants.

The highest number of racially motivated hate crimes in Finland were recorded in 2011 than at any other time in more than 10 years.

Friday, November 8, 2013

N-word comment by Junes Lokka - Muutos 2011 MEP candidate

Less than a week after it came to light that one of Finland's candidates in the 2014 election to the European Parliament referred to a news manager as a "whore", the candidate used another derogatory word in a comment in response to criticism of his conduct. The comment puts to rest any doubts about how the candidate views minorities, including dark-skinned people and immigrants.

On November 6 2013, Junes Lokka, aspiring Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and member of anti-immigration and anti-Euro Muutos 2011 political party, expressed xenophobic sentiments and used the N-word in a comment he posted in response to my blog post related to the case in which he referred to a news chief  as a "whore".

Junes Lokka became known to the public for the wrong reason -- when he referred to a Yle news manager as a "whore". His action in the Yle case outraged a cross section of the public and attracted condemnation. For instance, a young activist argued (in Finnish) that Junes Lokka's behavior was immature. On my part, I supported the immaturity argument and added that there should be legal and political consequences for such behavior. I concluded that the MEP candidate isn't ready for the European Parliament-- since in my view the parliament is no place for people who make no secret of their sexism and other forms of prejudice against minority groups.

In response to my take on the Yle "whore" scandal, Junes Lokka used the N-word and asked me to "go back" to my country of origin -- as seen in the screen shot.

In my opinion, Junes Lokka's response - besides being racist and xenophobic - once again falls short of what is expected of a would-be MEP. The budding politician is on the wrong side of history. MEPs represent Finland in the European Parliament and I think the good people of Finland won't appreciate a sexist, racist and xenophobic representation. No person of good conscience - and there're many of them in Finland - would vote for a candidate who uses derogatory words to abuse, bully and demean people on grounds of sex, race, gender, origin, ethnicity or other grounds.

It's worth mentioning that the N-word comment was not approved because it violates my blog rules and regulations, hence it doesn't appear under the article in which it was posted. However, I thought the Finnish electorate has the right to know the abhorrent comment posted online by Muutos 2011's European Parliament candidate - less than a week after the "whore" comment. By their words we shall know them.

Muutos 2011 reportedly considered Lokka's dismissal from the party. According to Iltä-Sanomat, the party also deliberated his European Parliament candidacy. Dismissal, in my view, is unlikely - considering the fact that the party admitted James Hirvisaari, one of Finland's most controversial MPs who was dismissed by the Finns Party.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Cameroonian Dr. Georges Bwelle for 2013 CNN Hero of the Year

A Cameroonian is among this year's Top 10 CNN Heroes. There're lots of phenomenal people on the list working selflessly to change the world, but the story of a doctor offering free health care in a country where health care isn't free and many people can't afford even the most basic care hits home.

Every year, CNN honors ordinary people doing extraordinary things around the world. CNN Heroes - everyday people who dedicate their lives to serving others - are nominated by third parties inspired by their cause. After nominations, CNN selects 10 heroes and invites members of the public to vote for their favorite -- to be named CNN Hero of the Year.

A Cameroonian medical doctor, George Bwelle, is among 2013 Top 10 CNN Heroes. Inspired by difficulties, including lack of neurosurgeons and inadequate equipment faced by his father and many other Cameroonians in receiving medical care, Dr. Georges Bwelle decided to do something about it. He became a medical doctor and started a non-profit organization that travels to rural areas in Cameroon on weekends to provide free medical care. According to CNN, the doctor and his team of volunteers have helped about 32,000 people in Cameroon - a country where there is reportedly only one doctor for every 5,000 people and where many can't afford seeing a doctor -- since two out of five people reportedly live below the poverty line and nearly three-quarters of the country's health care spending is private.

I think Dr. Bwelle should be CNN Hero of the Year. Cast your vote.

Personally, as a Cameroonian, I can relate to what inspired Dr. Bwelle to take action. Many people in Cameroon face untold difficulties in a bid to receive basic medical care and many end up dying from preventable causes. I lost my father in Cameroon as a result of a private car accident on one of Cameroon's bad roads. Perhaps my father's life could have been saved if we had a working health care system with ambulances and emergency responders. I can therefore relate to Dr. Bwelle whose father was also involved in a car accident that affected him for the rest of his life as a result of limited access to health care. To say the least - there is a desperate need for adequate, available and affordable health care in Cameroon and I appreciate efforts made by Dr. Bwelle and his team to give people access to medical care.

The Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2013 are outstanding men and women, but - without taking away anything from any of them - I decided to vote for Dr. George Bwelle. The good doctor is my favorite. He is doing a phenomenal job in his community, which happens to be in my country.

Vote for Dr. Georges Bwelle. It's possible to vote once a day, every day through Sunday, November 17, 2013. The 2013 CNN Hero will be revealed on 1 December 2013. Each of the Top 10 CNN Heroes will receive a sum of $50,000 to support their cause. The CNN Hero of the Year will receive an additional $250,000. Your vote could go a long way to help save lives.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Muutos 2011's Junes Lokka isn't ready for European Parliament

Voters across Europe go to the polls every five years in the 28 Member States of the European Union to elect their representatives in the European Parliament. The next round of elections is scheduled to take place in member states on 22.-25 May 2014 and Finland has a handful of candidates hoping to occupy seats in the European Parliament, including one who recently referred to a journalist as a "whore" -- based on the fact that she is a woman.

Between 2014 and 2019 Finland will have thirteen (13) seats in the European Parliament. Junes Lokka, a prospective occupant of one of the seats, referred to a journalist as a "whore". According to Ilta-Sanomat, the candidate participated in a TV programme in which he was referred to a blogger. He contacted the editor-in-chief to have his title changed from blogger to MEP candidate. He uploaded his recorded conversation with the editor to YouTube and referred to the editor as a "whore" in the title of the uploaded content. Yle is considering legal action against the blogger.

Junes Lokka is a member of Change 2011 (in Finnish: Muutos 2011) -- a nationalist political party whose main purpose is to promote Finnish "interest" through free speech and straight democracy. According to Helsingin Sanomat, the idea of the party originated from Hommaforum - a far-right, anti-immigration online discussion forum where the despicable language used by Lokka is common. The party has only about 250 members and it provided safe haven for disgraced parliamentarian James Hirvisaari -- a former MP for the populist Finns Party who was convicted for inciting hatred against a minority group.

Muutos 2011 seeks to achieve its goals through "free speech" -- even if it means speech that denigrates and incites hatred against minority groups. Some members of the party and other far-right ideologists would wrongly argue that legal action against Lokka for referring to a journalist as a "whore" amounts to an attack on freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech has justifiable limitations under Finnish law and international human rights law. A journalist in Greece was fined €25,000 for making a similarly derogatory remark against German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In my opinion, the fine in the Merkel case was not a violation of free speech. There have also been hate speech convictions handed out by Finnish courts.

In my view, there should be legal and political consequences for Junes Lokka or anyone else who thinks a woman is a "whore" by virtue of being a woman -- or who uses freedom of speech to demean and denigrate individuals or incite hatred against a minority group. After listening to the phone conversation between Lokka and Yle's editor on YouTube, it is easy to conclude that the candidate is not ready to occupy a seat in the European Parliament. His conduct was immature and reinforced the belief that Muutos 2011 is made up of individuals who have little or no respect for minorities, including women, LGBTI people, immigrants and the Roma. The European Parliament is a "fierce defender of human rights"; it is no place for proponents of "blind nationalism" who make no secret of their sexism and other forms of prejudice against minority groups.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Roma couple declared guilty by Finland's Iltasanomat -- until proven innocent

Presumption of innocence is a fundamental right of accused persons recognized in many European nations. The principle demands that persons accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty. This right applies to the European majority population, but in cases involving Roma - Europe's most discriminated minority group - the presumption of innocence is shelved by the media and the court of public opinion.

News of a child found in a Roma camp in Greece in the custody of a Roma couple took the media by storm. Major international news outlets had catchy headlines about a blonde, blue-eyed "mystery girl" found in a Roma camp. Meanwhile Iltäsanomat in Finland came up with a more dramatic headline that declared the Roma couple guilty of kidnapping before they were charged.

News outlets like Huffington Post and Daily Mail used words like "abducted" and "kidnapped" in quotes -- thereby showing uncertainty. But Iltasanomat appeared convinced that the girl was kidnapped.

The Roma are Europe's most discriminated minority group and they face segregation, intolerance and violence in many European countries. Unlike the majority of Europe's population, they are stigmatized and are usually condemned by the media and the court of public opinion before full investigation of alleged crimes.

In my opinion, Iltasanomat's headline (see above screenshot) reflects prejudice and discrimination against the Roma. The tabloid, pending the outcome of investigation into the case, described the girl as kidnapped -- thereby indirectly declaring the Roma couple involved guilty -- in violation of the couple's right to presumption of innocence: a fundamental civil right laid down in article 48 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and article 6(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Irrespective of the seriousness of the alleged crime, I believe the Roma couple involved reserve the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Their lawyer said they adopted the child from her biological mother - although the adoption, according to the lawyer, was "non-legal". The couple have been charged with abduction and document fraud. The public and media should wait for the outcome of the investigation and legal proceedings. A Bulgarian woman said she left a child with a family in Greece years ago. Conclusions should not be arrived at simply because the accused are Roma. More importantly, the "blonde angel" case should not have a knock-on effect against Roma across Europe.

Members of the Roma community and human rights advocates (including me) fear witch hunt against the minority group across Europe as a result of the Greece case. A Finnish journalist questioned, in a widely read and recommended opinion piece (in Finnish), whether or not the response by the media and authorities, including Interpol would have been the same if the child found in the Roma camp was not blonde and blue-eyed.

Personally, I welcome the outcry and coordinated international cooperation to find the biological parents of the child found in Greece. However, response by the media and authorities should be the same in every case -- irrespective of how victims or suspects look like. There should be no double standards.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Was appointment of Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities discriminatory?

Discrimination against dark-skinned people and perceived foreign nationals in Finland was thrust into the limelight by a groundbreaking documentary by Yle's Eyewitness (Silminnäkijä) TV programme which sparked a police investigation filed by Eva Biaudet, Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities -- whose appointment in May 2010 was surrounded by controversy and allegations of discrimination against rival applicants.

Following the broadcast of Undercover Immigrant TV documentary which documented and revealed flagrant incidents of discrimination in Finland, and the request for police investigation into the incidents lodged by the Ombudsman for Minorities, Iltalehti started a discussion in its online discussion forum about discrimination in Finland. The tabloid asked readers in the forum if they have noticed ethnic discrimination in Finland.

The first response was in the affirmative. According to an anonymous visitor there was ethnic discrimination in the selection process of the Ombudsman for Minorities -- in which a "weaker candidate", Eva Biaudet, was selected over a more qualified candidate of Kurdish origin.

Another commenter suggested that before an investigation into the findings of Yle, there should be an investigation into whether Eva Biaudet is entitled to demand an investigation.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, Eva Biaudet was named Ombudsman through special dispensation -- despite the fact that she did not have a Masters degree which is normally required for the position. A rival applicant, Husein Muhammed, met the requirements for the job but was not appointed.

In my opinion, it is plausible to conclude - especially after watching the Undercover Immigrant documentary - that the appointment of Eva Biaudet was discriminatory -- or at least a blatant show of favoritism. She did not meet the job requirement and in my view there was no need for her to be granted "special dispensation" when there were other qualified candidates. Special consideration would have been appropriate only if there were no other qualified applicants, but there were reportedly 31 applicants, 29 of whom had the required academic qualification; 5 were invited for an interview.

Personally, I think Biaudet does a good job protecting ethnic minorities in Finland from discrimination. I also think as Finland's Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking her office does a remarkable job in the fight against human trafficking in Finland. But I share the view that her appointment was questionable. Regardless, I applaud Eva Biaudet's prompt response to the revelation by Yle. Without delay, she requested an investigation into incidents of blatant discrimination well-documented by Eyewitness. The programme revealed that skin color makes a difference in Finland in the job market, in the search for housing and in nightclub queues. Employers outrightly favor Finnish job applicants over immigrants or perceived foreigners.

It remains to be seen whether or not the employers, bars and nightclubs caught red-handed in the act of ethnic discrimination would be brought to justice. Mindful of the fact that Finland ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination way back in July 1970, the country has a long-standing obligation under international and national law to protect all persons within its borders from the sort of incidents documented by Yle.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Skin color matters in Finland, Yle hidden camera shows

Dark-skinned people in Finland struggle with discrimination on a daily basis. On week days many struggle in vain to find work related to their studies -- or even unpaid internships. Some of those who have given up seeking skilled jobs are sometimes mistreated, disrespected and exploited in odd jobs for which they are overqualified. On weekends many who go out to nightclubs and bars suffer indignities and rejection in the hands of doormen and security guards.

Yle TV programme scheduled to air on 17 October 2013 at 8 PM (GMT+2) on Yle TV2 uncovers discrimination in everyday life in Finland. According to the programme, skin color makes a difference in Finland when looking for accommodation, in the job market and in nightclub queues.

Yle sent out three men - a native-born Finn, an immigrant from Russia and one Somali - to find out how discrimination targets immigrants in everyday life in Finland. According to Yle, all three young men have lived in the country for a long time and speak the local language well, all three had the same cover story related to work experience, income and education. All three applied for a job, applied for accommodation and tried to get into a nightclub under the same conditions.

The programme reveals that at a nightclub, the Somali was denied access by the doorman, while one of the white test team members was let in. At another nightclub the Somali and the Russian immigrant were denied access on grounds that their Finnish driving licences presented as identification were insufficient. The Finnish team member was let in with only a driving licence. The three young men sought the same ten jobs. The native-born Finn was invited to two interviews, the Russian was invited to two and the Somalian was invited to none. A search for rental accommodation also left the Somalian discriminated.

According to the journalist behind the programme, the experiment recorded "clear evidence of discrimination". The journalist - described by Yle as a "white-skinned Englishman" - was shocked by the results of the experiment.

Personally, I am not shocked by the findings. As a person of African descent who has lived in Finland for over four years, I have faced my share of discrimination. For instance, a couple of years ago, a group of friends and I were denied entry into a nightclub in Helsinki. Of course we thought it was discriminatory and refused to leave the queue. The doorman said he would call the police if don't leave. Believing that the police won't allow discrimination, we implored the doorman to call. The police came and told us - to our surprise and disappointment - that doormen have the right to deny us entry. They suggested that we should find another club. I've also been denied access to a nightclub on grounds that I didn't have a [winter] jacket.

In another shocking incident which I experienced first-hand, a young man of Somali origin came out of a nightclub for a smoke. The doormen denied him access when he tried to return. When he insisted they restrained him on the ground and called the police. One of the guards had a knee on the Somali's head against concrete. When the police came, the Somali was handcuffed and taken into the police van.

In my view, the TV programme by Yle uncovers the plight of the average dark-skinned person in Finland. While it may shock some viewers, I am convinced that dark-skinned people who have lived in the country long enough will relate to the experience of the Somali in the programme and will not be surprised by the abysmal discrimination.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dismissal of MP James Hirvisaari isn't enough for Finns Party

Lawmakers are supposed to be law abiding citizens -- citizens who respect laws enacted by a democratic parliament. But the populist Finns Party (Perussuomalaiset) harbors members of parliament who have been convicted and fined by Finnish courts for inciting hatred, and members who make no secret of their extreme nationalist and Neo-Nazi affiliations. The party decided to kick out only one of its numerous controversial figures.

The opposition Perussuomalaiset that seems to thrive on xenophobic, Islamophobic and euro-skeptic rhetoric finally fired James Hirvisaari, one of the most controversial MPs in Finland's parliament. On 3 October 2013 news broke that the party intends to formally expel the MP for anti-party activities. The party confirmed the expulsion of the controversial MP the next day.

He was stripped of his party membership after it was confirmed that he took a Hitler-salute photo of a friend of his who visited him in parliament. Hirvisaari's visitor - who has a long criminal record - made a Hitler-salute in parliament's gallery and the MP was the man behind the camera -- in an act of apparent endorsement of a distasteful pose. The photo taken by James Hirvisaari was later posted online and precipitated his ouster from the Perussuomalaiset parliamentary group.

In my view, taking a photo of someone making a Nazi-salute in parliament is despicable and irresponsible -- Hirvisaari probably agrees, that's why he sent an apology to the speaker of Finland's parliament. However, it is not the only outrageous thing MP Hirvisaari has done. Previous misdeeds include the following:
  • He incited hatred against Muslims and was convicted of hate speech.
  • He compared homosexuality to a disability.
  • He refused to sack an aid of his who suggested that non-Finns should wear Nazi-style armbands to help police easily identify them.
  • He wrote that people from certain cultures are genetically wired to be rapists.
  • He argued that Finland is for Finns and that refugees and immigrants are social security hunters.
I welcome the dismissal of James Hirvisaari by the Finns Party. In my opinion the MP should have been fired a long time ago. Failure to do so contributed to the damaged reputation of the Finns Party. Hirvisaari did many things that would have long earned him a one way ticket out of the party - if the party didn't tolerate racism and hate-mongering. Some of his controversial colleagues like Jussi Halla-aho and Teuvo Hakkarainen still enjoy the confidence of the Finns Party.

The expulsion of Hirvisaari is a move in the right direction, but it is not enough to clean up the Perussuomalaiset brand. There are still numerous racist elements in the right-wing party who make no secret of their racist views and extreme nationalist affiliations. Many immigrants -- and some Finns I have spoken with believe the Perussuomalaiset opposition party is "racist". It will take more than the dismissal of one controversial MP to repair a severely damaged reputation.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

African leaders seek impunity while migrants die off Europe's shores

Barely a week after Italy registered its worst disaster involving African migrants off the coast of Lampedusa, the African Union convened in Ethiopia for its fifteenth extraordinary meeting to discuss an unrelated issue -- Africa's relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a possible pull-out by African countries.

Divers in Italy have recovered more than 300 bodies of African migrants who died when a boat carrying them to Italy capsized off the coast of Lampedusa on 3 October 2013. European and Italian officials responded promptly to the disaster and Italy decided to hold a state funeral for the shipwreck migrants. The world is yet to hear from the African Union and African leaders, including officials from countries where the migrants originated.

Rather than convene a special meeting to discuss the plight of countless Africans fleeing the continent, the African Union convened a special two-day summit to discuss a possible pull-out from the ICC.

In my opinion, the decision by the African Union to discuss a pull-out from the ICC in the wake of the Lampedusa migrant boat disaster is misguided and shows that the African leaders are more interested in protecting themselves from prosecution for the worst crimes, including crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. Leaders who work in the interest of their people would rather convene a meeting to tackle a problem that claims the lives of thousands of their people, including women and children.

Another boat carrying more than 200 migrants reportedly capsized in the Mediterranean one week after the Lampedusa tragedy. Italian and Maltese ships and helicopters were scrambled to the scene to search and rescue surviving migrants - while African leaders were in Addis Ababa to condemn the ICC for targeting them. This, in my mind, is a disgrace and a clear case of selfishness and misplaced priorities demonstrated by African officials -- especially considering the fact that many of the migrants flee Africa due to bad governance, human rights violations and failed policies implemented by the same officials.

In my view, Africans will continue to embark on life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean in search of safety and a better life for as long as lack of leadership persists in the African continent. African officials - many of whom are repressive and corrupt puppets of the West - need to stop focusing on themselves and work for the greater good of Africa and common Africans. The ICC at this point should be the least of their concerns -- mindful of extreme poverty, gender inequality, high infant mortality, poor maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria, food insecurity, corruption, human rights violations and the fact that according to the International Organization for Migration, 25,000 people fleeing Africa have died in the Mediterranean in the last 20 years, including 1,700 in 2012. [Source] If you ask me - in light of recent African deaths in the Mediterranean, the extraordinary plight of African migrants should have been top on the agenda of the fifteenth extraordinary session of the assembly of the African Union.

*Image: African Union

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Finland's population registry website excludes visible minorities

Finland is still very much a racially homogeneous country -- predominantly made up of white Finnish-speaking and Swedish-speaking people. The homogeneous nature of the population is reflected in most walks of life in the country where people of African descent or visible minorities are not represented or are relegated to the background. A look at the homepage of the population registry's website supports this assertion.

The website of the Population Register Centre (in Finnish: Väestörekisterikeskus) portrays a complete lack of racial and ethnic diversity in Finland. The last time I checked, photos displayed on the home page (see screenshot) of the website showed diversity in terms on gender, sex and age -- which is good. But ethnic or racial diversity was completely out of the picture despite the fact that Finland has visible minorities registered in the population register.

Finland has a total population of over 5 million people and it is estimated that the population will hit 5.5 million in 2015. As a member of Finnish society, I can attest to the fact that the country's population is racially diverse -- although a first look at the website of the population registry suggests otherwise. Even the website of Kela, the social insurance institute, shows a racially homogeneous Finland.

The population of Finland increased by 13,050 persons between January and July 2013 and the main reason for population growth was immigration. According to Statistics Finland's statistics on population structure, every tenth person aged 25 to 34 living permanently in Finland in 2012 was of foreign origin -- approximately 12 per cent of all persons with foreign origin were of African descent and about one-quarter were of Asian origin.

In my view, Finland's non-whites or so-called people of color have been relegated to the background and are not portrayed as part of the society. Many do not occupy prominent positions in public life as journalists, police officers, lawmakers, ministers or teachers. Visible minorities are not even portrayed as part of the society on national and governmental websites like that of Kela and Väestorekisterikeskus. It might take some time for visible minorities to occupy elevated positions in public life -- but I am convinced that simple changes in graphics and photographs on national and governmental websites will go a long way to show visible minorities that they are welcomed and accepted as part of the society.

In this age of information technology websites send resounding messages. The last time I checked, the website of Finland's population registry sent a disturbing message, in my interpretation, that visible minorities are not part of Finland's population structure. The population registry's home page should be updated to include racial and ethnic diversity that is representative of Finland's population structure.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Migrant deaths off Lampedusa point to lack of leadership

Lack of leadership and bad governance resulting in poverty and human rights violations force Africans to embark on high risk journeys in a bid to seek safety and a better life in Europe and elsewhere.

More than a hundred African migrants died (see photo of their coffins inside an airport hangar in Lampedusa) on Thursday 3 October 2013 after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the coast of Lampedusa in southern Italy. More than 150 passengers of the boat were reportedly rescued and some 200 remained unaccounted for. The search for more bodies continues as of the time of this writing. It is believed that there were about 500 people on board the boat and according to the United Nations most of them were from Eritrea and Somalia. According to Italy's Minister of Interior, the boat came from Misrata, Libya.

The tragic death of African migrants off the coast of Lampedusa and the deafening silence of the African Union and African officials of the affecting countries in the wake of the disaster is a gruesome reminder that African leaders don't care about the plight of their people both at home and abroad.

Numerous boats carrying African migrants to Italy and other countries like Greece, Australia and New Zealand sink, but the tragedy off Lampedusa on Thursday 3 October is said to be one of the worst to occur off the Italian coast in recent years - prompting the Italian government to declare a national day of mourning in Italy for the victims. Thirteen Africans lost their lives in another boat wreck on Monday -- three days earlier.

The incident was described by some officials as a "European tragedy". Others termed it "Europe's failure".

Europe no doubt has a role to play in the tragedy. But the loss of lives, in my opinion, is an African tragedy and Africa's failure -- caused by lack of leadership and bad governance in the African continent. African countries are rich, but bad governance, corruption and repression in countries like Eritrea force Africans to embark on risky journeys across the Red Sea and the Mediterranean in search of safety and a better life.

In my assessment, the silence of the African Union and African leaders reveal that they are out of touch with the plight of their people. It is inconceivable that Italy declared a day of national mourning to mourn the loss of African lives and no African country did same -- not even Eritrea and Somalia from where most of the migrants originated. The silence of the authorities in the affected African countries - including Libya, the transit country - is, in the words of Pope Francis, "a disgrace". It is plausible to conclude that African leaders don't value African lives.

The  solution, in my view, to the numerous migration disasters involving Africans lies in Africa. Western countries should stop exploiting Africa's resources to the detriment of its people and stop propping up repressive puppets who serve western interests in the continent. Issues such as mass unemployment, human rights violations and lack of basic necessities that force people to embark on risky boat trips should be addressed by Africans in positions of power. Prospective migrants in transit countries like Libya should be sensitized about the dangers of embarking on trips that could be aptly described as "death traps". More importantly there should be a serious crackdown on human traffickers who organize such trips.

According to Frontex, more than 31,000 undocumented migrants arrived in the EU through the Mediterranean between January and September 2013.

*Photo: Yahoo

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reluctance to exercise voting rights in Cameroon

The right to vote is a fundamental civil and political right. History tells us that many disenfranchised people around the world fought and died for the right to vote. But in Cameroon many people - especially the young - take voting rights for granted and never register to vote in elections, including presidential, municipal or parliamentary elections.

On 30 September 2013 Cameroonians took to the polls for parliamentary and municipal elections. I was able to have a feel of the situation on the ground on election day thanks to social media. A few of my Facebook friends voted and posted photos online while others expressed their lack of enthusiasm to vote.

A report on France 24 stated that 5.4 million voters headed to the polls and 29 parties had candidates in legislative elections. Mindful of the fact that Cameroon has a population of about 20 million, it is clear that many Cameroonians did not participate.

As a Cameroonian, I understand the lack of enthusiasm to vote. Elections in Cameroon have a long history of "irregularities" and [allegations of] fraud and electoral malpractices. Many Cameroonians believe the country's 80-year-old president has been in power since 1982 due to phony elections and a flawed electoral process that favors the ruling party. There are reports of cases where the names of known dead people appeared on voters' rolls. Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), the body responsible for organizing and supervising elections, is believed to be compromised since some of its board members appointed by the Head of State are reportedly affiliated to the ruling party. Some of them, including a former Minister of Social Affairs and a couple of former Vice Ministers are known regime loyalists.

There're compelling reasons for Cameroonians - especially youths who have known only one president in their lifetime - to be reluctant to vote. However, I believe the ruling party thrives on a disorganized and fragmented opposition as well as on boycotts by numerous voting-age Cameroonians. I therefore applaud all those who, despite the odds, headed to the polls on 30 September to cast ballots in delayed legislative and local elections. Their votes might not count but they played their part. I encourage everyone to register and vote in the future. Real change will only come if more young people exercise their civil and political rights, including the right to vote and stand as candidates in legislative, local and presidential elections.

Personally, I didn't vote due to reasons beyond my control. If I were on the ground I would've definitely voted and my vote wouldn't have been in support of the status quo. The current system has failed the majority of people in Cameroon for more than three decades. The country is rich but poverty stricken. More of the same - thirty years later - won't change the sorry-state of affairs shored up by a toxic mix of unemployment, poverty and human rights violations. Change is possible through the ballot box but a truly independent, transparent, impartial and credible electoral board is needed to make it happen.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Nairobi mall attack could hurt Somalis in Finland

Al-Shabaab, a somali-based terrorist group affiliated to al-Qaeda released the names of alleged perpetrators of the Westgate mall terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya that left 62 people dead and over a hundred wounded. According to the revealed list, one of the attackers came from Helsinki, Finland. If this is true it could have damaging consequences on Somalis in the Nordic country.

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack in retaliation to Kenyan military operation in Somalia, and released the names, ages and countries of origin of the alleged attackers. According to the list, one of the alleged attackers identified as Ismael Galed came from Helsinki, Finland.  The other 8 were recruited from Canada, Somalia, U.S.A, Kenya and the U.K.

According to Finnish police, the name released by al-Shabaab and linked to Finland is not in the country's population register but investigation continues since it is common for al-Shabaab's militants to adopt fictitious names so as distract the authorities. The Somali union in Finland said the name is unknown in the community.

Personally, I hope the alleged attacker from Finland does not exist since his existence would have negative repercussions on innocent members of his community.

Al-Shabaab reportedly recruits from Somali communities around the world. According to Statistics Finland, there were 7,4768 Somalians in Finland in 2012 - making them one of the largest groups of foreigners in the country. A poll in 2011 placed Somalis among minority groups most affected by racism and intolerance in Finland.

In my assessment, news that one of the Westgate attackers came from Helsinki would increase intolerance and negative attitudes towards Somalis - many of whom already face discrimination and high unemployment in Finland. Extremism and participation in terrorist attacks by individuals from Finland and elsewhere should be condemned and prosecuted when possible, security should be tightened and members of the public and security forces should be more vigilant. The threat of terrorism is real and militants may be hiding in plain sight. However, there should be no backlash of intolerance and increased negative attitudes towards vulnerable communities from where militants could be recruited. A backlash would only increase chances of recruitment by terrorist groups. Disgruntled young men pushed to the fringes of society could easily be recruited for purposes of terrorism.

This is not the first time al-Shabaab is linked to Finland. In 2011 it was revealed that six persons resident in Finland had links to the terrorist organization. Regardless, I think people should be treated as individuals and their actions should not be attributable to everyone in their community of origin.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Minorities in Finland face unequal treatment, even in death

Family murders are common in Finland and whenever they happen the media mentions the nationality or origin of the perpetrator and the victim. But the origin of the most recent victim of Finland's string of disturbing family murders was kept under wraps. Some people, including me wonder why.

On 1 September 2013, a 42-year-old Finnish man killed his wife in their home (see photo) in Nurmijärvi, a town in the Helsinki metropolitan area. The man killed himself thereafter and seriously wounded his slain wife's 3-year-old daughter.

Finnish media usually reports the nationality of family murder victims, but there seemed to be a cover up in the Nurmijärvi case. In June 2013 the media made no secret of the killing of an Estonian woman by her Finnish partner. The unambiguous report of the June case involving two white Europeans puts into question why a young [African] woman killed in Nurmijärvi under similar circumstances related to domestic violence was merely labelled "maahanmuuttajataustainen" (immigrant background) by news outlets.

According to sources who wish to remain anonymous, the 26-year-old woman of "immigrant background" was from Democratic Republic of Congo.

In my view, it is not by chance that the African victim's origin was omitted from Finnish news reports. The information blackout was a calculated attempt to avoid speculation by members of the public that the killing was racially motivated. I do not believe that race motivated the killing, since the killer was married to the victim. However, I do believe there was a cover up in a bid to sway public discourse away from the murky waters of immigration and growing racism in Finland. The glaring omission reveals that issues related to people of African descent in Finland are rather swept under the rug.

Otherwise it is incomprehensible why the media identified the Helsinki west harbor victim a few months earlier, for instance, as an Estonian and concealed the origin of the Nurmijärvi victim who happened to be African. Some might consider it an unintentional omission or oversight. But I do not see it that way since all prominent news sites left out the information the last time I checked.

Private individuals are protected by privacy laws and issues like their finances and bank records are usually a no-go area for the media. But Iltalehti took a cheap shot at the Nurmijärvi victim's reputation by publishing information about her financial difficulties in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In my assessment, it is inappropriate to make national news out of a private individual's finances, especially when the information has no bearing on a case. Making news of a murder victim's financial record, which has no bearing on the case, was out-of-the-ordinary, irresponsible and unnecessary.

I have seen a photograph of the slain 26-year-old Congolese. She was young and seemingly full of life. I am sure she will be missed by her family, friends and loved ones. Thanks to independent research and credible sources I can now put a name and face to a slain member of Finland's visible minority community who was labelled and treated unlike the majority, even in death.

According to a source, a funeral will take place in Jyväskylä on 14 September 2013.

Image: Iltalehti

Monday, September 9, 2013

A vote for impunity by Kenya's parliament

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is controversial among Africans. Many argue that the court targets Africans suspected of crimes within the jurisdiction of the court and turns a blind eye to similar international crimes committed by western leaders. It is commonly argued that if George W. Bush and his associates like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were Africans, they would have been hauled to The Hague for crimes against humanity, including widespread torture, enforced disappearances and severe deprivation of physical liberty of terrorism suspects. Arguments against the ICC are compelling, but at the same time a vote to leave the court is tantamount to a vote for impunity.

On 5 September 2013, Kenyan MPs approved a motion to leave the ICC. The vote paves the way for Kenya to drop its obligations under the Rome Statute. Parliament claims that withdrawal from the Rome Statute is aimed at protecting Kenyan citizens and defending the sovereignty of Kenya.

When the news broke I tweeted a link to the news report with the words: "#Kenya MPs vote to withdraw from #ICC. Disappointing! A vote for impunity." I stand by my words.

The vote, in my assessment, is aimed at protecting President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, both of whom have been charged with crimes against humanity by the ICC. Kenya's parliament is dominated by a coalition created by the duo. The parliament therefore has an interest in shielding them from prosecution at The Hague.

In my view, a vote to leave the ICC is a vote in favor of impunity. The ICC was set up by the Rome Statute to deal with crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression. Withdrawal from a treaty that binds Kenya to the court means crimes that fall within the jurisdiction of the court committed in Kenya will go unpunished. There have been no justice for crimes committed during post election violence in 2007 in which more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 displaced. Impunity for the worst crimes is what Kenya's parliament, which is dominated by a coalition formed by suspected perpetrators of the 2007 violence, seeks to achieve. The controversial vote is not intended to protect the common man.

Pulling out of the Rome Statute is not a solution for perceived "hunting" of Africans by the ICC. The court can anyway pursue charges against suspected perpetrators in non-member states based on referrals by the U.N. Security Council - as in the case of crimes that were committed in  Darfur, Sudan and Libya under Omar al Bashir and Muammar Gaddaffi respectively.

In my opinion, in order to keep the ICC at bay African states should build strong legal institutions capable of delivering justice to victims of serious crimes of international concern. The ICC complements national criminal jurisdictions and comes in when a state is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute crimes within the jurisdiction of the court. A vote to withdraw from the court without a developed and impartial national criminal justice system is misguided.

Kenya ratified the Rome Statute in March 2005. Withdrawal won't halt on-going prosecutions. But it could affect initiation of future investigations and prosecutions.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

MPs ignore bigger fish to fry in Finnish society

Public discourse in Finnish online forums and blogs written by far-right elements and Finns Party MPs suggest that immigration is the biggest problem in Finland, but a closer look at Finnish society reveals more pertinent issues that people on the far-right of the political divide ignore, including domestic violence, family killings and violence against women and children.

Populist Finns Party members lead the way in fanning flames of hate against immigrants and other minorities in Finland. They slam immigrants and refugees and portray Muslims as villains. MPs like James Hirvisaari and Jussi Halla-aho have been convicted by Finnish courts for inciting hatred, but they remain defiant. Another notorious MP from the populist right-wing Finns Party, Teuvo Hakkarainen, more recently wrote a controversial blog post in which he described Muslims in Turku as the "worst Jihadists". It's worthy to remember that Hakkarainen used the n-word to describe people of African descent in a video interview on his first day in parliament.

From writings and utterances of Finns Party lawmakers (who also happen to be lawbreakers), you would think that immigration is the most serious problem in Finland.

In my view, there are bigger fishes to fry in Finnish society.

Numerous women and children have been killed in Finland as a result of domestic and family violence and the authorities have not done enough to arrest the problem.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, 55 people - including 48 children have been killed since 2003 as a result of family murders and the authorities have not acted adequately. For example, verbal threats of violence are usually not taken seriously. Helsingin Sanomat gathered 11 cases of family murders since 2011 - the most recent being a twin murder in Jyväskylä in August 2013.

The list of family murders doesn't include the 1 September 2013 case where a Finnish man killed his immigrant wife and seriously wounded her three-year-old daughter with a handgun, nor the 15 June 2013 killing of an Estonian woman in broad daylight by her Finnish partner in a parking lot in Helsinki's west harbor.

By my rough count, there have been three cases of family-related murders in less than three months this year - resulting in death of three women. This, in my assessment, is a more serious societal problem than immigration.

Finns Party MPs and other proponent of extreme views shared by Norway's mass murderer Anders Breivik shouldn't waste durable time in parliament taking cheap shots at immigrants and refugees. They should focus on tackling crippling societal problems like alcoholism, domestic violence and family killings.

A disturbing report revealed that a homicide is committed in Finland every third day. Majority of the perpetrators are discriminated, unemployed and alcoholic men. According to the report, more homicides are committed in Finland than in any other Nordic country.

MPs like Hakkarainen, Hirvisaari and Halla-aho focus on inciting hatred and shy away from discussing life-threatening problems that plague their constituencies. Perhaps, given their track record, the MPs would address the issues if perpetrators were mostly Muslims, immigrants, Roma or other minorities.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Diminished confidence in Helsinki Appeal Court judges

Racist jokes and disparaging comments against women by Helsinki Appeal Court judges put into question their impartiality in cases before their court involving people of African descent, women and other minorities.

Helsingin Sanomat reported on 8 August 2013 that Helsinki Court of Appeal male judges told racist jokes and made disparaging comments and sexual suggestions against women.

According to the MTV3 report that initially brought the irresponsible conduct to light, the judges used racist and derogatory words, including the n-word during recess and decision deliberations in the courthouse. The judges also reportedly spoke disparagingly of Jews, Russians, homosexuals, prostitutes and victims of sexual crimes.

The revealing report states that the use of inappropriate language in the appeal court is "quite extensive".

After the shocking revelation that followed an internal investigation of the judicial system, Mikko Könkkölä, president of the appeal court, said the behavior of the judges involved was inappropriate but did not influence decision-making.  

I partly agree with the president of the court and applaud his attempt to protect the integrity of his court. The behavior of the judges was totally inappropriate, albeit the fact that "inappropriate", in my view, does not aptly describe the conduct. I however think that the judges' derogatory perception of minorities, victims of sexual crimes and prostitutes influence decisions of the appeal court.

In my opinion, the shameful behavior by supposedly honorable judges undermines the integrity of Helsinki's appellate court and puts into question the impartiality of its judges in cases involving women, people of African descent and other minorities. Racist and sexist jokes by judges - in or out of court - diminish confidence in Finnish courts.

The Minister of Justice condemned the remarks made by judges. She said their behavior does not create confidence in the judicial system.

I totally agree with Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson. Personally, as a person of African descent, I won't trust a judge who uses racial slurs to describe people who look like me.

In my view, the judges involved in this scandal should be asked to recuse or recuse themselves from cases involving minorities targeted by their racist and sexist expressions.

A formal complaint has been lodged with the parliamentary Ombudsman. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be consequences for the gross judicial misconduct by Helsinki Court of Appeal judges. Failure to take action against the judges would be a missed opportunity by the authorities to restore confidence in the judicial system.

*Image: HFHR

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Switzerland indebted to asylum-seekers

Switzerland, a small landlocked European country known for its corrupt banking system that provides safe haven for tax evaders and corrupt third world dictators is building another shameful reputation - a reputation of racism.

The Swiss Confederation has been on the news lately for wrong reasons, including racism against U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey and a controversial policy of segregation of asylum-seekers.

Some towns in Switzerland plan to segregate asylum-seekers from the general public. According to a BBC report, asylum-seekers will be kept away from public places such as libraries, swimming pools, playing fields, vicinity of schools and a church in the town of Bremgarten.

Human rights groups have branded the policy "racist" and likened it to apartheid in South Africa. It's hard to disagree with their assessment.

In my view, the policy is glaringly racist, restricts asylum-seekers freedom of movement and designed to undermine the right to seek asylum as laid down in the Refugee Convention, which Switzerland ratified in January 1955. Mindful of the global demographics of asylum-seekers, the policy is racist because it seeks to keep people of a certain race, ethnicity and color away from certain areas in Switzerland.

It is true that in Europe, Switzerland has the highest number of asylum-seekers per head of population. But it is also true that racism and segregation are not solutions to a "refugee crisis."

Looted money

Switzerland banks looted money from some of the countries where refugees originate, thereby providing support for dictators whose actions and policies force people to flee.

In my opinion, Switzerland aids and abets corruption in the developing world, and benefits from the spoils of bad governance and dictatorships in the region through its banking system. The country should be ready to accommodate those negatively impacted by the negative consequences of its secretive banking system.

According to an article on the New York Times, Swiss banks identified 470 million Swiss francs ($511 million) in accounts of Tunisian and Egyptian politicians and 360 million Swiss francs ($391 million) of Libyan assets following the "Arab Spring." The looted funds in question could have provided a better life for people in affected countries.

Rather than support a racist government-backed policy, the people of Switzerland should ask their government and those in position of power in the country's banking sector to stop providing safe haven for money looted by corrupt dictators who make countries in the developing world unlivable for millions of people - many of whom end up fleeing to Switzerland.

*Image of anti-immigration poster by right-wing Swiss People's Party: BBC

Friday, August 2, 2013

Suomen kansalaisuuden hakeminen vaikea päätös maahanmuuttajille

Monet ihmiset ajattelevat, että kaikille maahanmuttajille on helppo tehdä päätös hakea suomen kansalaisuutta. Ei ole totta.

Joillekin maahanmuuttajille suomen kansalaisuuden hakeminen on vaikea päätös, koska jos he saavat toisen kansalaisuuden he menettävät alkuperäisen kansalaisuuden, vaikka he eivät ole hyväksyttyjä niin kuin "tosi" suomalaiset suomessa. Minusta tällaisille ihmisille suomen kansalaisuuden saaminen on kuin olla kansalaisuudeton mielessään.

Jotkut maat eivät hyväksy kahta kansalaisuutta kansalaisilleen. Jos kansalainen saa toisen kansalaisuuden, hän menettää alkuperäisen kansalaisuuden. Ihmisille, tällaisista maista, suomen kansalaisuuden hakeminen on iso päätös.

Maahanmuutto keskusteluissa suomen yhteiskunnassa on eroavaisuus heidän välillä kuka on suomalainen ja kuka on suomen kansalainen.

Minun näkökulmasta, suomen yhteiskunnassa suomalaisia ovat valkoihoset suomea (tai ruotsia) puhuvat ihmiset, kun taas suomen kansalaisia ovat "kotoutetut" maahanmuuttajat, jotka ovat saaneet suomen kansalaisuuden. Niin ymmärrän julki vuorovaikutuksista internetissä.

Ruotsin Husby mellakoiden aikana, Perussuomalainen Kai Haavisto kirjoitti, että Uussuomalainen ei ole suomalainen. Hän tarkoitti, että ihmiset jotka ovat saaneet suomen kansalaisuuden eivät ole suomalaisia. Kommentit Haaviston kirjoituksen alla näyttää, että monet muut ihmiset ovat samaa mieltä.

Muissa maissa kansalainen on kansalainen. Yhdysvalloissa esimerkiksi yhdysvaltalainen on yhdisvaltalainen. Siellä ei ole mitään kuin "Uusyhdysvaltalainen". Sitä, minun mielestä, on yhdenvertaisuus.

Henkilökohtaisesti olen kamppaillut toisen kansalaisuuden hakemisen päätöksen kanssa. Ajattelen, että ei ole mitään järkeä virallisesti menettää alkuperäisen maan passia ja hakea uutta passia vaikka ei  ole tunnistettu samalla tavalla kuin ennemmistö ja kaikki muutkin, jotka kantavat samaa passia sinulle uudessa maassa.

Suomen kansalaisuuden mukana tulee edut ja etuoikeudet. Esimerkiksi maahanmuuttajat, jotka saavat suomen kansalaisuuden voi nyt hakea töitä jotka ovat varattuja vain kansalaisille, kuten Apulaisasiantuntijaohjelmassa, jonka ulkoministeriö järjestää CIMO:n kautta. Minun mielestä Apulaisasiantuntijaohjelma on syrjivä kuten olen aikeisemmin kirjoittanut.

Suomen kansalaisuuden hakeminen ei ole helppo päätös kaikille maahanmuuttajille, erityisesti nille, jotka katsovat etujen ja etuoikeuksien yli.

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