Migration 'challenging Western way of thinking and values' – Finnish president

© Fabrizio Bensch
The flow of asylum seekers to Europe threatens the continent's values while international refugee legislation is “outdated,” Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö said in a harsh parliamentary address, echoing public debate on the country’s migrant crisis.

"Migration is a serious problem," Niinistö said at Finlandia Hall during the official opening of parliament.

"Europe, Finland, the Western way of thinking and our values have all been challenged by it. This is a stark transformation - just a few years ago we were exporting our values and regarded them as unquestionable, now we are having to consider whether even we ourselves can preserve them. We must safeguard our foundation of European values – there should be no confusion about this," the president said.

He insisted most migrants are not fleeing immediate danger to their lives.
"The flow of immigration into Europe and Finland is largely a case of migration rather than a flight from immediate danger," Niinistö said.

"All estimates predict that the flow of people will increase this year. This is challenging the ability of Western democracies to help and also challenging the very structures underlying the idea of Europe."

Finland, a wealthy Nordic country, has taken in 32,476 asylum applicants, according to statistics put out in 2015 by the Finnish Immigration Service – a relatively tiny amount compared to over 1.1 million admitted by Germany the same year.

Nevertheless, Niinistö said, the West should revise its legal and political rationale behind hosting the refugees.  In his opinion, the Geneva Conventions, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees under which most EU countries handle refugees, are outdated.

“The international rules were drawn up and their interpretation evolved under quite different circumstances,” Niinistö said.

"I feel sure that if these international regulations, and the national regulations based on them, were drawn up now their content would be fundamentally more stringent, while still taking account of human rights and helping those in need."

There are no good options, he stressed, pointing out that in order to protect the “foundation of European values” Finland and other EU countries should first of all take a harder line on immigration and asylum.

"Secondly, we must help those who are in distress or being persecuted. At the moment, however, we cannot help those who are merely seeking a better life, or feel that their circumstances and future are difficult in their home countries."

Finland was previously seen adopting tougher policies on refugees. In January, Paivi Nerg, the Interior Ministry’s permanent secretary, said over 60 percent of the migrants who arrived in Finland last year are likely to fail in their asylum applications, meaning that around 20,000 will be deported.