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Monday's papers: Iraqi returnees, sexual harassment, reindeer rebellion

Among the items in Monday's newspapers is a report by Helsingin Sanomat that the EU Commission is throwing its considerable weight behind talks on an agreement with Iraq to accept the return of rejected asylum applicants.

Porot jäkäläsäkin kimpussa
Penned reindeer feeding. Image: Jarmo Honkanen / Yle

Describing it as "significant" for Finland, Helsingin Sanomat says that the EU Commission has started negotiations with Iraq on an agreement that would facilitate the return of Iraqi citizens whose applications for asylum in EU countries have been rejected.

Finland has been attempting unsuccessfully to work out such an agreement with Iraq.

A record number of asylum seekers came to Europe in 2015. The majority of the over 30,000 who arrived in Finland were from Iraq.

Since then, thousands have had their applications for asylum rejected.

The Iraqi government has repeatedly refused the forced repatriation of these people. It has, however, taken a more positive position on voluntary returns. Last year over 1000 Iraqis returned home from Finland voluntarily.

Late last month, the EU Commission called for the creation of a mechanism for the "dignified, safe and organised" return of Iraqi citizens. According to Helsingin Sanomat, Iraqi officials have continued to voice opposition to an agreement. It is seen as a sensitive matter in internal politics. On the other hand, Iraq has been attempting to use the issue to pressure for a normalising of relations with the EU and for more reconstruction aid.

Last year, Finland returned 140 people to Iraq, and police officials told Helsingin Sanomat that this year, two or three a week have been forcibly returned.

Right now, there are around 1,700 people in Finland who have been ordered to leave the country after having their asylum applications rejected. Most are from Iraq.

In practice, an agreement would speed the process of acquiring travel documents and allow for charter flights to be used to transport returnees.

Human rights organisations have criticised EU governments for carrying out the forced return of rejected asylum seekers, especially to Afghanistan.

It is the position of the Finnish Immigration Service that Iraqi citizens can be safely returned to the country's capital, Baghdad.

Workplace sexual harassment

Turun Sanomat carries a syndicated Lännen Media report that very few reported cases of workplace sexual harassment are investigated by the police.

Cases of sexual harassment fall under gender equality legislation, but when they occur in the workplace, they can also come within the scope of occupational safety and health regulations.

According to Turun Sanomat, the Regional State Administrative Agency office dealing with occupational safety and health gets around 2,000 reports of workplace sexual harassment a year. About 100 of them result in action and only a few are turned over to the police for criminal investigation.

Aki Eriksson, a lawyer with the Southwest Finland Regional Administrative Agency, says that complaints most often fall under provisions of gender equality law, but at its worst sexual harassment can endanger the health of victims.

Reindeer rebellion

The Rovaniemi-based Lapin Kansa, and Tampere's Aamulehti both report the start of a "reindeer rebellion".

No, Rudolf and friends have not taken up arms.

Instead, what they are referring to is pressure from some local residents in North Ostrobothnia and Kainuu who are demanding that reindeer be penned up year-round outside the free range areas traditionally used by indigenous Sami herders.

Mounted mainly on social media, the "rebellion" has led to an appeal to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry to place tighter restrictions on reindeer herding in areas south of Lapland. Some locals in these areas say that free-range reindeer cause damage to crops and forestland and thus negatively impact their livelihoods.

Organisations representing reindeer herders have started a counter-offensive with some saying that they have become the target of threats and vandalism.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry carried out a web survey on the issue late last year about the benefits and drawbacks of reindeer herding in these areas, and asked for suggestions on how it should be regulated. The results are expected to be published this month.

The Centre Party congress scheduled for June will be debating whether or not it should get involved in trying to settle the dispute.

Missing trains

The Metro freesheet headlines the start of an overtime ban by some unions and a warning that in the Helsinki region, some metro and commuter train services may be affected starting today.

Because of union action, employees' shifts cannot be reassigned, so any cases of illness or absence by train or metro drivers will mean that their assigned trains won't run.

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