Finnish MP Hussein al-Taee (SDP) has raised discussion with statements he made on social media, suggesting that children with immigrant backgrounds in the country are often and arbitrarily taken into protective custody.
Meanwhile, the Childrens' Ombudsman, Elina Pekkarinen, suggested that cultural understanding could be lacking within the child protection services realm and that racism may be playing a role in the situation.
Speaking in Arabic in a social media video, al-Taee suggested that many children with immigrant backgrounds have been taken into custody and placed into care facilities. He said that child protection services' decisions to do so can be arbitrary.
"We need to ensure that immigrants' cultural aspects are carefully considered in Finnish legislation and that we get child protection laws that do not lead to our children being taken into custody for arbitrary reasons, but only in situations in which a child is truly in danger," he said in the video, adding that children with immigrant backgrounds should not be seen as risks.
"Our young people and families are frightened in this country," the MP said in Arabic in a post on Instagram.
MP al-Taee clarifies
al-Taee responded by email to Yle's about whether he thinks that children have been arbitrarily taken into care. He emphasised that Finland is a state governed by the rule of law.
"In Finland, authorities work with big hearts and under great pressure and I give them all my respect."
"The members of parliament are often contacted about these cases and I want to build understanding and trust about child protection and the Finnish authorities," his email read.
The MP said that language barriers and cultural differences continue to lead to difficulties in peoples' understanding of decisions made by authorities.
"Above all, I want to improve the understanding between new Finns and the authorities, so that no one feels that the authorities' decisions are random or arbitrary," al-Taee's email read.
Ombudsman: Immigrant-background kids overrepresented
The Children's Ombudsman, Elina Pekkarinen, voiced concern that families with immigrant backgrounds are overrepresented as clients in the child protective services sector.
However, she said that she still does not believe that one can speak of arbitrariness in the system.
"But it is clear that when authorities work under the pressure of time, there's also a risk of staff overreacting," Pekkarinen said.
According to child protection laws, there are already requirements to take into account childrens' religious, cultural and linguistic backgrounds. However, Pekkarinen said that cultural understanding is still not necessarily sufficient.
"We can also assume that there is racism within the service network," Pekkarinen said.
The 39-year-old al-Taee is running for his second term as an MP from Uusimaa in the upcoming parliamentary elections. According to an SDP election page, al-Taee arrived in Finland from a Saudi Arabian refugee camp when he was 10 years old.
The politician has previously faced scrutiny over statements he made on social media that came to light shortly after being elected as an MP in 2019, when it was revealed that he made anti-semitic comments on Facebook a few years before he ran for office.
Authorities considered charging the MP with incitement, but as it dropped the case, the prosecutor noted in 2021 that al-Taee had made the statements before he ran for office and also deleted them independently.