Minister of the Interior Paula Risikko held a press conference in Helsinki on 21 March 2017 to discuss a recent opinion survey on Finnish asylum policy. The study was conducted by the University of Vaasa and commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior.

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A recent study has revealed that Finns are worried about the polarization of opinion in public discussions about asylum seekers.

Conducted by the University of Vaasa, the study was commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior in order to find out the attitude of Finns towards the government’s asylum policy and the current situation regarding refugees in Finland. 68% of respondents felt that public debates have become dominated by extreme opinions.

This polarized atmosphere has dissuaded many Finns from joining the conversation for fear of being stigmatized. Numerous participants felt that engaging in the public discussion on asylum policy would lead to them being placed on one side of the spectrum – labelled as either a racist or a ‘suvakki’. Suvakki is a derogatory term that roughly translates to ‘social justice warrior’.

The majority of respondents also believed that debates surrounding the topic of asylum were rarely factually based. This was attributed to a lack of contextual information provided in media reports, which were too often seen as biased.

Others issues that were raised included the opinion that the government should further invest in development aid and crisis management. It was commonly thought that, in order to limit the amount of people seeking asylum, Finland should do more to assist the countries that refugees are coming from and passing through. Many participants in the study also wanted the refugee quota system to be improved to help the most vulnerable, and an early integration process that avoided feelings of idleness and frustration among waiting asylum seekers.

A large amount of respondents took a more critical view. Most believed that the influx of asylum seekers had increased the threat of crime and terrorist acts, while there was fear of an upsurge in conflict among different population groups. It was also mentioned that asylum seekers who receive residence permits should not be entitled to the same social security as Finns; that those who are rejected should be sent home; and that churches, organizations and individuals should not protect those without official documentation.

Commenting on the publishing of the study on Tuesday, Minister of the Interior Paula Risikko said that more facts were needed as a basis for discussions about asylum policy in future. This sentiment was echoed in the Ministry of the Interior’s press release, which said: “The answers given by those who took part in the survey highlighted the need for direct communication by the authorities”. Risikko also agreed with participants by saying that the integration of asylum seekers should begin at an earlier stage.

Dan Anderson

Helsinki Times

Photo Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

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