Monday, May 26, 2014

Finland shouldn't discriminate in quota refugee selection

Roughly defined, quota refugees are persons recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and submitted for resettlement. Most of them live in squalid refugee camps around the world, and the UNHCR seeks to resettle them in third countries where they can start a new life. Finland annually accepts and resettles quota refugees, irrespective of race, color, religion or other grounds. But there are those who think that Christian refugees should be given preference.

Finland's Minister of Interior, Päivi Räsänen - who doubles are leader of the Christian Democrats party - stated that Finland should give preference to persecuted Christians (presumably over persecuted Muslims) in the selection of quota refugees. She claimed that it is "sensible" that refugees be admitted to countries where they can integrate -- thereby suggesting that Christians integrate into Finnish society better than other religious groups.

According to Finnish Immigration Service, Finland accepts and resettles persons whom the UNHCR has designated as refugees, or other foreigners in need of international protection. Parliament decides annually the number quota refugees to be resettled in Finland. The country has accepted 750 quota refugees per year since 2011.

In my view, the suggestion by minister Päivi Räsänen that preference should be given to Christians is plainly discriminatory on grounds of religion, and could jeopardize chances of selecting Muslims - who are equally in need of protection - as quota refugees. Finland should accept quota refugees based on how many refugees are in need of resettlement and the amount of resources allocated by parliament, not based on religion. In its policy on quota refugees, Finland considers the need for international protection as the most important criteria for selection of quota refugees. It should stay that way. Religion or integration shouldn't be primordial.

It is wrong to suggest that Christians integrate better than other religious groups. The ability and/or willingness integration is an individual issue. Some Christian refugees don't integrate into broader Finnish society while some Muslims integrate, and vice versa. A generalization that Christians adapt better than Muslims or any other religious group is misguided and prejudicial. I have met Muslims who have integrated pretty well into Finnish society.

The way I see it, having a Minister of Interior who makes no secret of prejudice against certain groups - in favor of Christians - could negatively impact Finland's policy on quota refugees to the detriment of non-Christians, mindful of the fact that the ministry of interior is a major actor in Finland's refugee policy.

Worthy to mention that besides negative perception of non-Christian refugees (and perhaps non-Christian immigrants in general), minister Räsänen opposes gay marriage and adoption of children by homosexual couples. Under her leadership in the Ministry of Interior children are detained in prison-like conditions for immigration purposes in Finland -- despite condemnation, petitions and calls by human rights groups like Amnesty International to stop the detention of children.

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