Finnish President Sauli Niinistö predicted Saturday that the stream of refugees entering Finland will continue to grow in the coming years. In a morning television interview, Niinistö said it is important that asylum seeker integration is successful.
“The public debate has turned in a more positive direction because now it is focusing on how the people can be best incorporated into Finnish society,” he said.
When questioned about potential cultural conflicts between the populace and the newcomers, Finland’s leader emphasized immigrant compliance with Finnish values.
“‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, to use a rather worn-out and highly criticized phrase. There must be a respect for the principles of democracy, equality and human rights like the kind we share in Finland. Beyond these fundamentals, there remains a great deal of breathing room for multiculturalism to still thrive,” the president continued.
Niinistö says refugees aren’t coming to Finland solely in search of assistance; rather they desire to independently participate in building their own lives here.
“We here in Finland must recognize our responsibility to humanity.”
Yet Niinistö admits that there will eventually be a limit to how many refugees Finland will be able to accommodate, as the acute unemployment situation can’t be ignored.
Negotiating with Turkey
The European migrant crisis was a topic of discussion during Niinistö’s recent state visit to Turkey. Over two million Syrians have fled civil war into Turkey to date. The latest EU summit on the crisis offered Turkey money and perks if it would be willing to help put a stopper in the flow of refugees north.
Niinistö concedes that the EU must proceed with caution in its negotiations with Turkey, in light of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism. He refused to reveal his position on Erdoğan’s standing.
“The general atmosphere and public discourse in Turkey certainly create a cause for concern, for he is clearly strengthening his grip as president,” he said.
Niinistö nevertheless stresses that many people’s lives are hanging in the balance in EU negotiations and that Turkey has done far more to help Syria’s refugees to date than Europe.
“On the one hand, we have to consider Europe’s needs, but on the other, we have to think of the huge demands being made on Turkey.”
The Karelian model
Niinistö refutes the idea of the EU and Turkey using refugees as a trading tool.
“Perhaps a milder way of saying it would be that the two parties are offsetting benefits and burdens. Is it perfectly clear that the Turks know that they are needed and they are needed quite badly,” he said.
Turkey has planned for the establishment of a safety zone for refugees on the Syrian side of the border, where families fleeing violence would be given a small piece of land and a private dwelling. Niinistö said the plan reminded him of Finland’s re-settlement of 410,000 Finnish citizens after the territory of Karelia was ceded to the Soviet Union after the Winter War.
Niinistö said Erdoğan was interested to hear how Finland handled the mass evacuation.
“I told him that Finland resettled more than ten percent of its population from Karelia. The operation closely resembled Turkey’s proposed model in that small pieces of land were distributed to the evacuees.”