August 2001

"Don't let the world in"

"The Finnish concept of reciprocity has for a long time emphasised one-sidedness: we can go out to the world but the world should not be let in here." This is how Risto Laakkonen, acting director of immigration in the Ministry of Labour, sums up his criticism of Finnish attitudes towards immigration.

In an interview in the news weekly Suomen Kuvalehti (10 August 2001), Laakkonen looks for reasons not only in people's minds but also in educational traditions. Tribal thinking and the idea of one's own superiority have been emphasised for a long time.

"It takes time to attain the kind of internationalism which allows more and more Finns to see themselves as members of a wider world. Schools have not been able to prepare people to accept differences."

Laakkonen does not believe that racism in Finland is as prevalent as in Germany and Norway. However, there are prejudices, ignorance and weak or non-existent knowledge of other cultures, he points out. In spite of this many responsible citizens do not see the urgency of some action.

"Because of discrimination, people who have fallen outside working life also become outsiders in society. They don't have social networks which would help them to manage. Racism and patronising attitudes should not be accepted in any form."

Laakkonen says that compared to many other EU countries, the Finnish government's programme to fight discrimination and racism is good and liberal. The programme was approved in March.

"We have knowledge, material, programmes. They must now be implemented in practice. Many reforms cost nothing because they become realities in people's attitudes and contribute to our life as good practices.

"Neither must we forget the Finns who are struggling with the threat of social exclusion and problems with accomodation. Talking about immigration and multi-culturalism is only credible when everybody is being taken care of."

Laakkonen believes that Finland should invest in language education and re-training of immigrants. He laments the fact that the debate is being overshadowed by questions of costs of immigration.

"We should be thinking about how we can use the linguistic and cultural skills which have become available for us. The larger number of immigrants we can integrate into working life, the greater the gain. And yet Finland has kept 300 doctors outside the health service because they have been educated abroad. Not to speak of other foreign professionals. Their skills have been declared nul and void.

"We now need urgently to teach Finnish to immigrants and we also have to retrain them. We need to change the way we think about these matters."

Laakkonen says that Finland cannot cope in future without immigrants. Ageing Europe is already competing for skilled labour. Laakkonen also reminds readers that Finns are constanty emigrating. There are 1.3 million Finns living abroad.

See also:

More articles in the Immigration section of the archive


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