Human rights

“Once you get papers, you become a real person”

The graphic is by the Finnish Immigration Service, available here:

The graphic is by the Finnish Immigration Service, available here:

0.03% of the world’s refugees live in Finland. You wouldn’t think that from the way the issue gets portrayed by many Finnish politicians and in the local media, but numbers are pathetically low. In 2014 for instance, 1 346 individuals received asylum in Finland, while another 1030 were accepted under the country’s refugee quota system.

These are some of things I learnt at a workshop organised by the Finnish Refugee Council last week. Established in 1965, the organisation supports refugees and immigrants in Finland, as well as refugees in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Thailand.

I’ve decided to volunteer with the Refugee Council to combat what appears to be a rise in negative attitudes towards foreigners in Finland, as well as counter the spread of what can only be called misinformation about the extent and type of immigration to the country. As a first activity, I look forward to welcoming Liberian Cucu and his Kenyan wife Gloria for a meal to our house as part of a multicultural exchange.

There are now over 50 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. That’s the highest level of displacement ever recorded. The three top origins for displaced people are Afghanistan (2.56 million), Syria (2.47 million), and Somalia (1.12 million). That’s a lot of lives put on hold, people stuck at camps and in uncertainty and boredom.

Rita used to be one of them. Having fled the Rwandan genocide as a teenager, she spent time – sometimes in hiding – in the Congo, Kenya, and Senegal before being accepted as a refugee in Finland as part of the official quota. When she told us her story at the Refugee Council workshop, she described the moment she received official identification papers ahead of travelling to Finland: “Once you get papers, you become a real person.”

It’s evident Finland can’t offer a home to all of the world’s refugees. But clearly we can do more. After all, 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries with significantly less resources with which to offer the displaced safety from persecution, conflict, and violence. One in every five people in Lebanon today is a refugee.

And the fact is, recession or not, more immigration into our small northern state is actually good for us. Apart from the many benefits deriving from learning about and living among other cultures,  research conducted by OECD in 2013 showed that, fiscally, Finland benefits more from immigration than it costs. I wish that was something that featured more prominently in the public debate, especially as we head towards the April elections with the xenophobic Perussuomalaiset party predicted to get around 15% of the vote.


People power brings Finns the right to say ‘I do’.

Finland took an important step towards realising marriage equality today when MPs voted on a citizens’ initiative to legalise same-sex marriages. Out of a total of 199 MPs, 105 voted to legalise same-sex marriages (they actually voted noted no, ‘Ei’, because of how the question had been posed). There are still various bureaucratic rigmaroles to go through – including another vote in parliament – before same-sex couples can actually marry (possibly in early 2017), but the general sentiment seems to be that there won’t be any backtracking after today’s historic development.


The result of the vote is not the only news worth noting either. The vote to legalise same-sex marriages followed a citizens’ initiative – Tahdon 2013 – started over bar table in 2012, and is the first citizens’ initiative pass through parliament since citizens’ initiatives were allowed that same year. The lesson? People power works.

And here’s a list of the MPs who voted against same-sex marriages, because I believe in naming and shaming (this is according to Helsingin Sanomat, and includes the party initials in Finnish before the vote against, ‘EI’):

Ahvenjärvi Sauli kd EI
Anttila Sirkka-Liisa kesk EI
Autto Heikki kok EI
Eerola Juho ps EI
Elomaa Ritva ps EI
Gästgivars Lars Erik r EI
Hakkarainen Teuvo ps EI
Hautala Lasse kesk EI
Heikkilä Lauri ps EI
Hemmilä Pertti kok EI
Hirvisaari James m11 EI
Holmlund Anne kok EI
Hongisto Reijo ps EI
Immonen Olli ps EI
Jalonen Ari ps EI
Jokinen Kalle kok EI
Joutsenlahti Anssi ps EI
Jurva Johanna ps EI
Jääskeläinen Jouko kd EI
Jääskeläinen Pietari ps EI
Kalli Timo kesk EI
Kalmari Anne kesk EI
Katainen Elsi kesk EI
Kerola Inkeri kesk EI
Kettunen Pentti ps EI
Kivelä Kimmo ps EI
Kiviranta Esko kesk EI
Kokko Osmo ps EI
Komi Katri kesk EI
Kopra Jukka kok EI
Korhonen Timo V. kesk EI
Koskela Laila kesk EI
Kääriäinen Seppo kesk EI
Lehti Eero kok EI
Leppä Jari kesk EI
Lindström Jari ps EI
Lintilä Mika kesk EI
Lohela Maria ps EI
Lohi Markus kesk EI
Louhelainen Anne ps EI
Maijala Eeva-Maria kesk EI
Mattila Pirkko ps EI
Mäkipää Lea ps EI
Mäntylä Hanna ps EI
Mäntymaa Markku kok EI
Mölsä Martti ps EI
Niikko Mika ps EI
Niinistö Jussi ps EI
Oinonen Pentti ps EI
Packalén Tom ps EI
Palm Sari kd EI
Palola Mikael kok EI
Paloniemi Aila kesk EI
Pekkarinen Mauri kesk EI
Peltokorpi Terhi kesk EI
Pirttilahti Arto kesk EI
Raatikainen Mika ps EI
Rajamäki Kari sd EI
Rantakangas Antti kesk EI
Rauhala Leena kd EI
Ravi Pekka kok EI
Rehula Juha kesk EI
Reijonen Eero kesk EI
Risikko Paula kok EI
Rossi Markku kesk EI
Rundgren Simo kesk EI
Ruohonen-Lerner Pirkko ps EI
Räsänen Päivi kd EI
Saarakkala Vesa-Matti ps EI
Sankelo Janne kok EI
Sasi Kimmo kok EI
Satonen Arto kok EI
Savola Mikko kesk EI
Sipilä Juha kesk EI
Soini Timo ps EI
Soukola Ismo ps EI
Tolppanen Maria ps EI
Tolvanen Kari kok EI
Torniainen Ari kesk EI
Tossavainen Reijo ps EI
Turunen Kaj ps EI
Tuupainen Kauko ps EI
Tölli Tapani kesk EI
Vahasalo Raija kok EI
Vehkaperä Mirja kesk EI
Vehviläinen Anu kesk EI
Virtanen Pertti ps EI
Vähämäki Ville ps EI
Väätäinen Juha ps EI
Wallin Harry sd EI
Zyskowicz Ben kok EI
Östman Peter kd EI

For marriage equality.

MPs in Finland are today voting on marriage equality following a citizens’ initiative launched in March 2013. I got married in Finland earlier this year – anyone else who wants to do so should be allowed to as well. (‘Tahdon’ means ‘I do’ in Finnish.)


A camp and a festival: Tumaini at Dzaleka.


Went to the Tumaini Festival at Dzaleka Refugee Camp about an hour outside of Lilongwe in Dowa last Saturday. Organised by the Dzaleka Cultural Association (DCA), the event featured a variety of performances by Malawian artists and groups from the camp. We also got a tour of the camp itself, which is home to some 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi but also from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and other countries. It’s the only refugee camp in Malawi and has been open for 20 years. Our Congolese guide explained that most nationalities have their own areas in the camp, but the common language is Swahili.


At first look, the place doesn’t look much different from a poor settlement in Lilongwe. There is no visible fence, but residents are not supposed to leave without permission. Some do make their way to Lilongwe, but run the risk of being arrested if found by the police. According to UNHCR, “With the exception of Angola and South Africa, countries in the [Southern Africa] subregion hosting a significant number of refugees maintain encampment policies that restrict the freedom of movement of refugees and asylum-seekers and impede their efforts to become self-reliant. Many of these camps have existed for decades, and the second and sometimes third generations of refugees living in them find it difficult to envision a better future.”

So at second look, not exactly your poor settlement in Lilongwe. In any case, here are my shots.






















We need to boycott Israel.

Enough. We need a full-scale, global boycott of Israel and all things Israeli, much like the boycott of apartheid South Africa. The below video explains why. This website – Voices of Gaza – features important testimony of what is happening in Gaza right now. ACT.

No to charity. Yes to rights.

Being charitable is generally seen as an admirable thing. It also often makes you feel better about yourself – you’ve helped someone vulnerable, someone less fortunate. Everyone wins. Or do they?

I just read this piece by Mike Konczal in Democracy Journal. It’s basically about how the US conservatives’ arguments that private charity will step in to support those in need if the role of the state is minimised, and that state interventions to support those need have a negative effect on private giving, are false. The article gives a good historical overview of state support to the needy in the US, concluding that:

“The public’s role in combating the Four Horsemen by providing for social insurance doesn’t kill private charity. It allows it to fully thrive. It enables private charity to respond with targeted and nimble aid for individuals and communities, rather than shouldering the huge, cumbersome burden of alleviating the income insecurities of a modern age. A public social insurance state gives every individual the security necessary to take risks, which enriches both our economy and our society. And it also establishes a baseline of equality and solidarity among all citizens, so that charity enhances the lives of the less fortunate instead of forcing them to rely on those with money and luck.”

I don’t disagree. What’s missing in the piece however is the fundamental acknowledgment that every single human being has a set of inviolable rights, and that the state – as the duty-bearer – has a duty to promote and protect these rights. As such, any state that leaves private charity to fulfill the rights of its citizens – from access to health care, to adequate housing – puts the respect of its citizens’ human rights at the mercy of those who can afford to, and are willing to, be charitable. That’s just not good enough, particularly when private charity regularly comes with strings attached.

So Konczal is right to argue for a public social insurance state. What would merit stressing further is that only such a state can guarantee the protection and promotion of its population’s human rights. Charity can’t do that.