Migration on the Increase – is Finland ready for it? , Kulttuurikeskus Caisa, Helsinki, 7.5.2004

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Migration is sometimes seen spoken of as if it were a totally new phenomenon. This is completely wrong. Migratory movements have always been an essential feature of human development and evolution. In a sense we have all come from Africa.

Of course not all migratory movements have taken place in happy circumstances, as the violent history of the slave trade and of colonial wars and conquests witness. But mostly migration has involved the natural desire of people to seek a better life for themselves and their families. This is not only natural, it is also an essential part of human development in all its forms: economic, cultural and social. Without it, we would all be poorer in every respect.

In today’s world, with a world population that has grown from 2.4 billion to over 6 billion people after the second World War, we have a situation where migration has to be better managed than before as part of our efforts to bring about better global governance.

Migratory movements are thus an integral element of the global political, social and economic life of today. The Population Division of the United Nations estimates that the total number of international migrants was roughly 175 million in 2000. In other words, approximately 3% of the world population are international migrants. This figure includes refugees but not illegal migrants, who escape official counting. The number of migrants is expected to rise to 230 millions by the year 2050.

During the past decades, migration has been on the increase, and a growing number of countries are involved. The trend has traditionally been movement from south to north, but an important intra-developing country dimension has also developed recently. almost all countries are now affected. In certain cases, movements are temporary but very often the idea is to move on a permanent basis.

Another aspect is the gender balance among migrant populations. While the traditional image of a migrant is still a male head of household, today, in fact, more than 50% of migrants are women. This may have an influence on what human rights challenges are attributable to migration, because women continue to face also specific gender-related human rights violations.

The multi-faceted phenomenon labelled as globalisation has implied a sharp increase in global information systems, and awareness of the differences in living standards in different parts of the world has grown. Relatively affordable transportation is available to an increasingly great number of people. Transnational corporations are relocating their activities and sometimes employees, too, from one country to another and the need for labour in different countries varies accordingly. All these aspects linked to globalisation increase the potential for migration.

A number of bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements have been concluded on migration-related issues. In Europe for instance, the EU has, especially since the Tampere Summit in 1999, stepped up efforts to harmonize policies also in the areas of immigration and asylum. The Council of Europe, too, has been active in the field of migration management. Migration and the status of minorities have also been discussed in the framework of the Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy, which is co-chaired by my Tanzanian colleague and myself. I expect that these issues will also be reflected in some of the conclusions of the Helsinki Process next year.

At the moment, there is not a comprehensive global arrangement that would govern issues related to international migration. The recent report of the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, co-chaired by the Presidents of Finland and Tanzania, called the absence of a multilateral framework for governing cross-border migration a major gap in the current international structure. Unregulated cross-border movement may lead to a range of problems. Poor countries may, for instance, be deprived of the kind of labour they would specifically need to be able to develop. At the same time, illegal immigration is estimated to have increased sharply. The same is true about trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, which is among the key human rights challenges of today.

On the other hand, migration as such is not a problem and should not be primarily perceived in those terms. At its best, migration brings obvious benefits to the persons in question, and also to the sending and the receiving states.

In order to achieve the potential benefits to the best degree possible, a more effective multilateral framework in the area of migration management would be welcome. The potential agenda of such a process is extensive and the process will certainly not be easy, because so many different interests are involved. Nevertheless, we should, at least, work towards more intensive dialogue between the countries of origin and destination. Another way of addressing the issue would be one based on human rights. Persons who are on the move often find themselves in a vulnerable position. International mechanisms could be worked out to monitor the materialisation of migrants´ human rights in the various stages of the process.

Mr Chairman,

Finnish attitudes towards migration have been very defensive. There are fears, that unless we strictly control immigration to our country, we will be flooded with people from all over the world seeking to enjoy the welfare benefits, the sunny climate and the good life in Finland in general.

Nothing could be further from reality. Unless we revise our thinking we will soon face a situation where we will have a hard time to avoid being a net exporter of people as Finns increasingly take it for granted that they have the possibility of moving abroad, for study, work or as climate refugees.

Fortunately many international factors – such as the ones described above – and domestic factors – such as the ageing of the Finnish population – are now clearly changing the tone of discussion in Finland

This change is welcome. Finland should now pursue a more open and active immigration policy. It is in the interest of Finland, for demographic and other reasons.

The Government recently launched a project to design a new immigration policy for Finland. This project reflects the new kind of thinking on migration that is now emerging in Finland. The first version of the new immigration programme should be finalised by summer 2005.

Now that Finland is getting prepared to adopt a new immigration policy, it is essential to make sure that the process is based on a broad enough vision of what migration entails. There is now discussion about the need to ”import labour” for the purposes of the Finnish labour market. However, it would not really be ”labour” we would be bringing into the country but human beings who want to move to Finland for a variety of reasons and for shorter or longer periods of time. And these human beings may well have children and spouses they wish bring with them. People have a whole spectrum of expectations and needs, also outside the world of work. They should not be seen only as somebody who fills the slots in labourmarkets but also as somebody who enhances Finnish society as a whole.

When migration and its impacts are examined in a broader context, it becomes obvious that the whole society must be better prepared to welcome people of different origins. Foreigners still face many hurdles in integrating into Finnish society. Unemployment among foreigners has slightly declined but is still clearly higher than among the working population in general. Similarly, the number of registered crimes with a racist motivation has dropped a little but racist crimes are still far too many. Foreigners living in Finland, and perhaps especially those whose skin colour differs from that of the fair Finns, continue to experience discrimination in various ways.

If such problems continue to exist, it is hardly probable that Finland will be able to attract the kind of professionals that we might need in the future. In a sense, this is connected with competitiveness as a society, what are our attitudes towards diversity.

But above all, fair and equal chances of integrating into society, including the more skilled sector of the labour market, is a question of human rights. The principle of non-discrimination lies at the very core of human rights commitments.

I would therefore like to emphasize that the programme on good ethnic relations will have to play a key role in the new Finnish immigration policy. Of course, much is being done in this field already. Combat against racism starts at school and youth sport clubs and continues in various other fields of society. This particular forum, the International Curltural Centre Caisa, is a very positive example of a practical way of bringing people of different origins to work together.

What kind of improvements could be envisaged? I think that a more coherent and consistent policy for good multicultural relations should be mainstreamed into various policy areas – by the Government as well as by all other players in society. I therefore hope that when the Government’s new immigration policy is finalised, we would be able to reply in a more consistent manner to the question of how Finland is enhancing good ethnic relations.

Combating racism and building good ethnic relations is a two-way street. Racist expressions and acts should not be tolerated. It should be made absolutely clear that discrimination on the basis of origin is simply wrong and in some cases also constitutes a criminal act. The Finns have to grow more tolerant and see merit in doing things sometimes slightly differently.

Those who belong to the minorities will have to do their share as well. For instance, the basic rights apply to all individuals and members of minority communities may not impose restrictions of their own. For instance, Finland has made it clear that restrictions concerning girls´ school attendance are not acceptable.

In this context, I wish to mention Finland’s international activities and initiatives related to the promotion and protection of the rights of the Roma. The Roma form a genuine European minority in the sense that representatives of this minority community live in most European countries but do not form a majority anywhere. The initiative of President Halonen to establish a European Forum for the Roma in the framework of the Council of Europe aims at providing the Roma with a voice in matters concerning them also at the international level. Governments have been engaged in the preparations in Strasbourg, working in close cooperation with Roma organisations. We are quite hopeful to be able to conclude the process relatively soon and organise the first session of the European Roma Forum.

Mr Chairman,

Migration that is based on the needs of the labour market and other equivalent reasons should of course be kept separate from refugee movements. Refugees are people who have to leave abroad because of grave human rights violations in their countries of origin.

It is sometimes said that the Geneva Convention on Refugees from 1951 is outdated. In view of the fact that large-scale human rights violations continue in different parts of the world, I tend to disagree. The Geneva Convention and our commitment to protect refugees is still as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Finland should continue to support the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in his important functions and, in this respect, also continue to receive refugees at least the annual quota, which at the moment is 750 persons.

The title of this seminar refers to Europe and, of course, migration and refugee policies can no longer be discussed in isolation from developments in the European Union. In developing the EU´s activities in the field of justice and home affairs, Finland has an important legacy to uphold. The Tampere Summit organised in 1999 under the Finnish EU Presidency put together, in a still sustainable manner, various factors in this area: full commitment to the 1951 Geneva Convention, combat of racism and xenophobia and creation of more harmonized rules for dealing with asylum issues.

The fulfilment of the Tampere agenda has probably left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, about one week ago the EU Council reached an understanding on new rules for dealing with asylum issues. The outcome of the long process is a compromise and as such far from perfect, but nevertheless represents a commitment to develop common rules also in this area. The holistic view of the Tampere conclusions should be reintroduced when the EU is discussing the ”Tampere II” programme.

Migration issues are high on political agendas throughout Europe, and this is increasingly the case also in Finland. A broad discussion on this issue is needed in Finnish society at large, including by and with the relevant non-governmental organisations. This seminar is a welcome step in that direction.

Thank you.