Sunday, June 30, 2013

Africans don't live on trees: a letter to the racist

As an African blogger who condemns racism, discrimination and other social ills including violence against women in European countries like Finland, I receive, with no surprise, comments that reveal the ignorance and narrow-mindedness of the people who post them.

Some misinformed, uninformed and perhaps less-traveled individuals think Africa is a country. Others think the continent is a "jungle" where inhabitants do not have decent housing and live on trees.

Many people have a twisted picture of Africa and countries in the continent. The picture they have of the continent and its people is shaped by the media and organisations working to help the poor and disadvantaged.

The truth is, there is another side of the story; there is a side of African countries that is not shown on television and in fundraising adverts by humanitarian and development organisations.

I came across a video on YouTube that portrays African countries in a different light. The video is highly recommended for those who have never traveled to an African city, yet have and express inaccurate preconceived ideas of what African cities and towns look like. The video is a must-watch for the "go-back-to-your-tree" kind of racist xenophobe.

The video does not paint a complete picture of Africa, neither do videos like Kirkon Ulkomaanapu's "Ajattele" fundraising video on Facebook.

In response to one of my blog posts, a reader posted a racist comment in reference to where I come from. The comment is just one example of how racists, in an attempt to dehumanize Africans, often resort to the false and somewhat laughable assertion that Africa is a "jungle" where people live on trees.

One of my favorite quotes is drawn from "The Innocents Abroad", a travel book by Mark Twain:
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." 
In my opinion, well-traveled people are less likely to be to racist and xenophobic because they have a better understanding of the world and its people - as a result of travels and interaction with people from different parts of the globe. It is in this vein that I encourage racists and those who have a tainted picture of Africa and its people to travel to the continent. They would be amazed by the level of development in the cities and, more importantly, they would enjoy the hospitality of a people they very much despise and disrespect.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Finland: Discrimination accounts for high Somali unemployment

Somalis are among the largest groups of immigrants in Finland. They are also among the largest unemployed groups of immigrants in the country. Many people [mistakenly] think that the high rate of unemployment among Somalis is because they are not willing to work. This, in my view, is not the case.

Somalians in Finland have been stereotyped as lazy and dependent on social welfare, despite numerous news reports that of all immigrants in Finland, Somalis (including those with language skills and a profession) find it most difficult to find work.

During the Midsummer weekend, I had a discussion with a couple of people about the employment situation of Somalis in Finland. The majority of those involved in the discussion promulgated the view that most people of Somali origin are unemployed because of lack of education, "laziness" and dependence on KELA, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland.

In my opinion, the assertion is incorrect, stereotypical and sheds light on widespread prejudice and negative attitudes towards Somalis in Finland.

According to a report by Yle, the highest rates of immigrant unemployment in 2010 were among Somalis, Iraqis and Afghans who arrived Finland as refugees. The rate of unemployment for the three nationalities  stood at over 50%.

The Director of Immigration Affairs for the City of Helsinki pointed out in the Yle report that "discrimination is clearly the big reason" for the high rate of unemployment among Somalis. According to the director, "of those who have been here 15 to 20 years, half have completed degrees in Finland".

The director's statement debunks the assertion that Somalis in Finland are unemployment because they are uneducated, lazy and enjoy being dependent on KELA.

In my view, employer discrimination and negative attitudes towards Somalis account for the high rate of unemployment among Finland's largest group of Africans.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, one reason for the high rate of unemployment among immigrants in Finland is the fact that Finnish employers regard Finnish education and Finnish work experience as better than foreign equivalents. But immigrants from Somalia experience difficulties finding work, despite the fact that many of them have Finnish education. According to researcher Tuula Joronen, negative attitudes and impressions account for the phenomenon.

As high as 58% of Somali immigrants in Finland were unemployed at the end of 2003. [Source] The unemployment rate stood at 43.3% in 2008. [Source

In 2010 and 2011, the risk of unemployment was highest among Somali speakers than among any other language group in Finland - according to Statistics Finland. Followed by high risk among Arabic, Persian and Kurdish speakers.

A poll revealed that Somalis and Muslims are among the groups most affected by racism and intolerance in Finland.

It is plausible to conclude from the aforementioned that prejudice, negative attitudes and employer discrimination against Somalis partly account for the high rate of unemployment in the Somali community. Many Somalis have learnt Finnish language and many have Finnish degrees and training. They should be employed without discrimination.

There was a total of 7468 Somalians in Finland in 2012.

*Image of nurse of Somali origin: HS

Monday, June 17, 2013

Finland should do more to end cycle of violence against women

The killing of a woman on the street in Helsinki in broad daylight is a gruesome reminder that violence against women is a major problem in Finland and the authorities ought do more to protect women from what seems to be a large number of abusive men in the country.

On 15.6.2013, a Finnish man shot and killed his Estonian partner in broad daylight in a parking lot at Helsinki's west harbour. The man reportedly shot the woman in the chest before turning the gun on himself after police ordered him to drop his weapon.

An eye-witness told Ilta Sanomat that the Finnish-Estonian couple had an argument before the man pulled his .22 calibre pistol. Helsingin Sanomat reports that according to police information, the man had previously threatened the woman before she was shot in the presence of her adult son.

In my view, the murder underscores a serious problem faced by many women in Finland and the need for concerted effort to protect victims of violence against women and those threatened with violence.

A staggering 43.5% of Finnish women have been subjected to physical or sexual violence at least once after the age of fifteen. [SourceA European Union survey revealed that violence towards women is slightly higher in Finland than elsewhere in the EU. [Source]

According to Amnesty International - Finnish Section, violence against women is a broad human rights problem in Finland and society does not condemn or prevent it as strongly as other forms of violence.

This, in my assessment, is an embarrassing record for a developed and supposedly civilized nation.

Finland has made noticeable progress in advancing women's rights. In fact, the country has seen three majority female government cabinets. The government as of the time of this writing is running on woman power.

Despite positive strides, many women are abused in private relationships.

In my opinion, the energy wasted by a growing number of anti-immigration activists and some Finns Party MPs bashing immigrants, refugees and other minorities in Finland should be focused on solving real societal problems like violence against women.

Women on their part should report all illegal threats and abuse. The woman killed at the port had been previously threatened by her Finnish husband, but she [reportedly] did not inform the police of threats. A police report could change dynamics of a case. Women who face violence or threat of violence in Finland could also use a toll-free helpline known as Naisten Linja (Women's Line). The phone number is 0800 02400. The service is available from Monday-Friday from 16:00-20:00.

Finland should do more to end recurring family violence and violence against women. Law enforcement and helplines are great but more initiatives and services are needed, including educative and rehabilitative services for young men who experience violence at home.

*Image: Ilta Sanomat

Friday, June 7, 2013

Misguided call against foreign workers by Finnish engineers' union

The role of trade unions is to promote and protect the rights and interests of workers - all workers, including foreign workers - in a given sector. Rarely do trade unions promote views shared by anti-immigration proponents on the far-right of the political divide.

The Union of Professional Engineers in Finland (UIL) is calling for tighter rules to limit the number of foreign workers allowed to work as specialists in Finland's engineering sector. According to a Yle news report, the union believes that loose rules on short-term work permits threatens to take jobs away from Finns.

I see similarities between what UIL is calling for and the anti-immigration rhetoric in Finland's sour immigration debate spear-headed by members of the Finns Party, its MPs and members of far-right organizations that are hostile toward foreigners.

The position of far-right organizations and the populist "True" Finns Party could be aptly described in two Finnish words: "Suomi Suomalaisille" (English: Finland for Finns).

In 2012, James Hirvisaari, a Finns Party MP well-known for his anti-immigration rhetoric and attacks on anything considered foreign - including Swedish language - argued in his controversial "Suomi on Suomalaisten maa" blog post that Finland is for Finns.

In my view, trade unions should not be in the anti-immigration business. Unions should focus on protecting the rights of workers within the framework of collective agreements with employers' representatives. The interests of Finnish workers could be promoted without calling for a discriminatory policy that would infringe foreign workers' right to work. Unions could, for instance, push for capacity building and more training for their members in order to make them more appealing to employers.

Juhanna Vartiainen, head of the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) said "Immigration and unemployment aren't really related. Immigrants don't reduce the likelihood that Finns will get a job, because the number of jobs is not fixed." [Source]

Finland, in my opinion, would be a better place for all if the authorities focus on job creation, not on limiting the number of foreign workers. Limiting the number of foreign workers isn't a credible and ethical solution to rising unemployment, job creation is. Workers in every sector should be able to find work based on academic qualification, experience and skill. There should be no discriminatory limitations on grounds of nationality or origin.

*Photo: Yle

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