Finland is yet to build a concrete wall around itself. Finns can still travel freely in and out of the country, and foreigners, including asylum seekers, are by and large let inside our borders should they manage to make their way all the way north. (Though staying here is another matter.)
The bricks of an intangible wall between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are however rapidly stacking up. The ‘us’ is some supposedly homogenous group of blonde, blue-eyed, hardworking and God-fearing, honest people whose country Finland is. The ‘them’ is most other people, though more often than not they are dark, Muslim, lazy, stealing our jobs and raping our women. ‘They’ are a threat, ‘we’ are vulnerable. Even the president said so.
Neither group of course exists. The citizens of Finland are a heterogenous bunch; language, skin-colour and religion are not the only measures of difference. Who the ‘them’ are is equally unclear. For decades Finland’s ‘other’ was Russia. Now, ‘they’ are some indeterminate Muslim menace, probably from the Middle East, but maybe from Afghanistan, or even Africa, too. ‘Their’ coming to Finland is a problem, it challenges our values. The president said so.
Those disagreeing with the president and speaking out for human rights and tolerance are branded the extreme. A ‘good’ Finn is a tolkun ihminen (person of common sense) who understands that people unfit for our society are deported, but respects those who integrate and become contributing members of society.
Today’s Finland seems to be holding on to some abstract, imaginary idea of what Finland is, and despite protests of some pesky extremists (read: human rights advocates) moving towards building increasingly real walls around it.
A recent manifestation of this trend is the proposed legislation regarding family reunification. The proposal expands the income requirement for family reunification, to the extent that it will become next to impossible for those who have received international protection in Finland to bring their families over. Already, refugees in Finland wait years for permission to reunite with their family. Now, if the proposed legislation is adopted, the person intending to reunite his/her family would have to earn a minimum of €2,600 per month after tax to bring a spouse and two children. Few well-educated Finns even earn that.
An allowance is made for those who receive refugee status (as opposed to secondary protection), but only if the family applies for residence within three months of him/her gaining the status. This too isn’t easy – the family must do so in person at a Finnish embassy. For Iraqis, this means travelling to Beirut. And filling in paperwork in Finnish, Swedish, or English. To mention just a few hurdles.
Making it next to impossible for refugees to be reunited with their families is however not the extent of it. If enacted, the legislation would also impose an income requirement on Finnish citizens with ‘foreign’ families. Had it been in place when the Husband and I moved to Finland last year, well, we wouldn’t have moved to Finland last year. Without me having a job ahead of the move, the Husband wouldn’t have received residency.
There’s been some backlash against the proposals, particularly since it dawned on Finns that it could potentially affect them too, not just the ‘others’. As a result, it seems likely the government will drop the income requirement for Finns, though the regulations regarding refugees will remain.
Regardless, the message seems to be: don’t fall in love with a foreigner. Don’t ask the Chinese exchange student out on a date, don’t hang out with locals during your year abroad in Mexico. If you work abroad, only socialise with Finns. Because, danger!, you may fall in love with a foreigner, and we don’t want those people here.
What I also take away from the proposal is how deep-seated xenophobia runs in Finland. It runs in the face of human rights, and even in the face the government’s own stated objective of promoting integration. How, pray tell, do they think keeping families apart will enhance integration and prevent exclusion? It doesn’t. Even tolkun ihmiset should understand this, and make a fuss.
As a first step, I suggest you sign Amnesty’s petition against the legislation here.