Monday, March 31, 2014

Finns Party councillors reject Syria child refugees

Many members of the populist Finns Party in Finland, including members of parliament and councillors have, through words and actions, repeatedly shown that the party has little or no regard for refugees, immigrants and other minorities. 

According to Yle, the mayor of Lieksa in eastern Finland tabled a proposal to accommodate a maximum of  nine (9) refugee in the city as quota refugees from Syria. Finns Party city councillors opposed the humanitarian proposal and subsequently blocked the move.

The Syrian crisis has been described by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband as "the biggest humanitarian test of the century", and many people of good conscience and aid organizations like the International Rescue Committee have launched appeals for aid to support thousands refugees and displaced Syrians, including children. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over one million children - described as "a lost generation" -  have fled Syria and three million children remain displaced inside the country.

In my view, Finns Party members of the Lieksa municipal council - by rejecting minor refugees from Syria - once again demonstrated xenophobia and moral bankruptcy - a few months after they refused to use the same meeting room with Somalians.

States and individuals around the world have an obligation (at least a moral one) to help protect a generation of Syrian children. States should take more quota refugees. Providing food and medical aid to refugees in squalid refugee camps is not enough. Refugee camps should not be long term accommodation. Individuals on their part should make secure donations to the UNHCR or any refugee agency or organization of choice. Save the Children and UNICEF are also accepting donations to help child refugees in Syria. Making donations on a personal level and accepting refugees (especially children) at the level of the state will go a long way to protect a vulnerable group of people from despair, faded opportunities and an uncertain future.

The kind of blind nationalism and exclusion demonstrated by Finns Party councillors is unacceptable, especially during a refugee crisis involving millions of children. People have the right to lawful association and to hold and expression political views - no matter how ludicrous some manifestos and views may be. But some stance - like refusal to accept under-aged refugees from a war zone - are an affront to good conscience and worthy of strong condemnation.

Stand #WithSyria.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Racist outcry in Finnish women's basketball "assault" case

A violent incident during a women's basketball game between players of Tapiolan Honka and Torpan Pojat thrust Finnish women's basketball and online racism to the limelight. Racist abuse - online or offline - must be condemned in the strongest possible terms whenever it prevails --- irrespective of what flares it.

Tapiolan Honka's American forward, Shanel Harrison, brought a basketball match on 8 March 2014 to a dramatic halt when she hit an opponent, Niina Laaksonen, in the face.

A video of the incident was, according to Ilta-Sanomat, uploaded to YouTube by the director of Finnish basketball association, but it was later removed by the basketball boss due to uncontrollable racist comments targeting the African American. However, the dramatic video had already been copied and uploaded by other internet users. Racist comments keep pouring in.

Tapiolan Honka fired the American the next day as a result of the incident --  without any official investigation into the matter or a decision by the basketball association. Finnish police launched an investigation into the matter on suspicion of assault.

Some internet users attempted to justify the despicable racist comments by blaming Harrison for "unsportsmanlike" behavior.

In my view, Shanel Harrison's action - provoked or unprovoked - was unsportsmanslike and should be condemned and sanctioned. In the same vein, racist comments that followed were uncalled for and should equally be condemned. Under no circumstance should such comments be justified. The unfortunate incident that Saturday had nothing to do with race. It is therefore racist and unintelligent to target the African American player for racist abuse.

Violence, although unacceptable, is not uncommon in sports. Ice hockey players, for example, are commonly violent on ice and get sent off -- but no one links their violence to race or racially abuse them, perhaps because ice hockey players are mostly white.

Tapiolan Honka acted swiftly and showed zero-tolerance for violence. It is my wish that the team responds in a similar fashion to all [future] cases of violence. Failure to do so would mean unequal treatment of Shanel Harrison.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Finland's scandalous record on violence against women

Finland generally does well in comparison to other countries in many areas, including the prevalence of corruption and quality of education. The country was even ranked best country to live in by Newsweek magazine in 2010. But when it comes to violence against women, one of the most salient issues of our time, Finland performs very poorly when compared with other countries in the European Union (EU).

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) presented results of the biggest ever violence against women survey in the EU at a conference in Brussels on 5 March 2014. According to FRA, the survey titled Violence against women: an EU-wide survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 42,000 women in the EU's 28 member states. The survey asked questions about women's experiences of physical, sexual and psychological violence (including domestic violence), childhood victimization, sexual harassment and stalking, including abuse through the internet.

The FRA survey revealed that Finland is the second most violent country for women in the EU. According to the survey 47 percent of women (almost half of the women surveyed) in Finland have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point after they turned 15 years old.

In my view, the hard-to-ignore finding of the survey is disturbing but not surprising. Numerous cases of violence against women have been reported in Finland over the years. Many of the cases result in death. "Family murders" (or "perhemurhat" in Finnish) are common and many women have lost their lives are as result of the social ill. Last year, two cases resulting in the death of women were reported between June and September.

Finland should take urgent steps to put an end to violence that affects almost half of the country's women. This can be done by, in my opinion, providing more "safe houses" for women in abusive relationships and responding to reports of violence immediately --- without waiting for cases to escalate or worsen. According to an editorial (in Finnish) on Iltalehti, Finland is supposed to have 500 spaces in safe houses but there're only a little over 100 -- mostly in the south of the country. A long term solution which could be pursued is sensitization school campaigns for young boys. Boys should understand early enough the implications of violence against women.

More importantly women should report cases of violence to the police or any other authority for assistance. What shocked me most in the survey is that a staggering 67 percent of women violated by their partners did not contact the police or any other organization.

Personally, I advocate tougher action against men who violate women. Perpetrators of violence against women should bear the full weight of the law. A mere slap on the wrist of a violent man is, in my view, grossly insufficient. Finland and other EU countries like Denmark (which has the highest prevalence of violence against women according to the FRA survey) should develop a hard line, zero-tolerance sentencing policy for violence against women.


 Ps: I share the view that real men don't hit (or violate) women. Violence against women is a sign of weakness not strength.

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