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Minister: Finland could accept more quota refugees to discourage illegal immigration

Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen says he believes Finland has the capacity to take on more quota refugees. He says European policy with regards to refugees should be redirected in future, so people fleeing war-torn areas can be transferred to Finland directly from the refugee camps.

Kai Mykkänen Image: Toni Määttä / Yle

Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Kai Mykkänen says he believes that Finland has the capability to accommodate more quota refugees. After meeting with UN refugee organisation leaders on Friday, Minister Mykkänen sat for an Yle interview, in which he said that a reliable quota refugee system in Europe would “get illegal immigration under control”.

Finland is preparing to host a major international summit on the Syrian civil war early in 2017. Leaders from the 193-member-state United Nations are expected to attend. The summit will seek new UN aid solutions to address humanitarian need in the ravaged country.

“I personally believe that we have the capability to move towards an increase in the number of quota refugees,” said Minister Mykkänen. “But we can’t be the only country to do so, and this is obviously something that must be discussed within the government.”

This might prove to be a difficult conversation, however, as his National Coalition Party’s coalition partner, the populist Finns Party, has made no secret of its anti-immigrant stance. The Centre Party has also been hesitant to open Finland’s doors, and the government it leads has already introduced legislation to tighten Finland’s asylum and family reunification policies in order to stem the flow of asylum seekers entering Finland’s borders.

Quota refugees vs asylum seekers

But Mykkänen’s comments refer to quota refugees, and this distinction is an important element in the on-going discourse about Finland’s asylum policy. Finland would be willing to do its part, but only if the other countries in Europe carry an equal share through a universal quota system.

“Concrete measures would require a European consensus that internal transfers would be implemented in countries other than just Finland,” Mykkänen explained.

The minister would not speculate as to what he thinks would be a reasonable increase in quota refugees.

“That is a matter for the European governments to agree on, and Finland must evaluate the matter internally as well,” he said.

“Get illegal immigration under control”

Minister Mykkänen says Europe must act collectively to turn the current situation around.

“The whole crux of refugee policy in Europe should be changed to transfer refugees directly from the camps and get illegal immigration under control,” he said.

Asylum seekers are generally not considered to be illegal immigrants unless they remain in a country after they are determined not to have valid reasons to receive asylum.

Organisers of the UN summit in Helsinki say the summit will not represent a promise of aid, nor will it offer any new commitments of assistance to Syria. They say Finland’s only objective at present is to offer its own high-level support to UN-led humanitarian assistance.

The Helsinki meeting will also focus on finding more private actors to assist with relief operations.

“If we succeed, the summit could end up being quite significant,” says Mykkänen.

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