Asylum seekers at the Joutseno Reception Centre in Lappeenranta, Eastern Finland, on 16 November 2023. Hundreds of Finnish researchers have signed a petition urging parliament to block a controversial bill that would allow for the temporary suspension of the asylum process in response to instrumentalised migration from Russia. How are such asylum seekers so different from those arriving in Finland through Norway or Sweden, asks one of the sponsors of the petition, Lena Näre, a professor of sociology at the University of Helsinki. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)


PROFESSORS Lena Näre and Markus Jäntti on Sunday published a petition opposing the much-criticised government proposal for a new border security act.

“We are now pleading with you, members of the Administration Committee, to use your discretion and reject this bill, which violates the Finnish constitution and human rights obligations,” the petition reads.

The Parliament’s Administration Committee convened to discuss the bill on Monday.

Helsingin Sanomat on Sunday reported that the petition had been signed by over 200 researchers from a wide range of fields by the original deadline, 10pm on Sunday. The list of signatories had grown by roughly a hundred by midnight on Monday.

Näre and Jäntti highlighted in the petition that such a bill passing the parliament would be unheard of and viewed that the government has failed to demonstrate how an increase in the number of asylum seekers poses a serious security threat to Finland.

“A rule-of-law state must be able to protect the right to seek asylum regardless of the route and means a person has taken to arrive at the border,” they argued.

Näre added to Helsingin Sanomat that the objective is to ensure the committee lands on the “right side of history”.

“We’ve heard a lot from legal scholars, but we want to show that the research community much more broadly, including humanists and social scientists, share the same concerns as the experts heard by the Constitutional Law Committee,” she elaborated to the daily newspaper on Sunday.

Finland is able to cope with a possible influx of arrivals orchestrated by Russia, according to Näre, a professor of sociology who has studied asylum and migration at the University of Helsinki. The arrivals, she underlined, cannot be regarded as especially dangerous simply because they were orchestrated to the border by Russia.

“I haven’t heard any evidence that these are somehow dangerous people.”

She also gauged that the only way to respond to instrumentalised immigration is to receive and process the arrivals. The reception system, she pointed out, has various practices and procedures that were shown to work well during the migrant crisis of 2015.

“I can’t comprehend what makes this so different than [the crisis in] 2015, when we coped excellently with the challenge.”

The petition reminds that more than 35,000 asylum seekers arrived in the country in the autumn of 2015, without sparking serious deliberation about the possibility of abandoning human rights treaties. Finland has also avoided a major crisis despite welcoming over 68,000 applications for temporary protection from people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine since February 2022.

“The debate has been depressingly black and white – that simply because Russia is behind this these people are somehow different kinds of asylum seekers than those who come to Finland via Norway or Sweden,” Näre lamented to Helsingin Sanomat.

Jäntti is an economist at Stockholm University.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT