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16 Aug, 2010 05:55

Finland debates Immigration Parliament

A proposed parliament for immigrants in Finland has stimulated debate on how best to deal with the influx of newcomers from abroad.

While large-scale immigration may be new to the country, authorities are trying to resolve problems – before they turn into something larger.

Two decades ago, Mosen Maidzadi left Iran to study in Europe. He met his wife in Italy and both moved to Finland, where he continued his education.

“I came directly to the university so I was very busy. So I didn't have a lot of stress. But it was a new culture and a new society. So I did a lot of sport, dancing, this and that,” he shares his experience.

Speaking six languages, it has not been difficult for Mosen to integrate. Now he has a two-year-old daughter and a home in Helsinki.

But not every immigrant in Finland is as successful. Eilina Gusatinsky heads a local Spektr newspaper and claims newcomers are often denied jobs simply because they do not have a Finnish name.

Born abroad to a Finnish mother, she has joined up with other immigrants to propose a parliament to fight for the rights of newcomers.

“Finnish society is systematically not ready to understand that it's changing. And even though currently the amount of immigrants is only about three per cent of the population, if measures are not taken now, the problems are only going to grow,” Eilina believes.

Organizers say the Immigrant Parliament will be an independent non-political organization. But not many Finns, including Teemu Lahtinen, Member of Parliament from the Finnish Folk Party support the project.

“I don't think it's a good idea. The immigrants should integrate,” he believes. “People who can't read or count or write are coming to Finland. They are not productive.”

Many immigrants are refugees from troubled regions like Somalia and Iraq, and some of them do not speak Finnish. That means they cannot find a job, so they live on state hand-outs. It has provoked a backlash from right wing nationalists in the country.

Authorities support the Immigrant Parliament, saying it may help stop the rise of racial hatred in the country.

“We would like to do the policies so that we can also hear the voice of immigrants. So I think this parliament is a good idea, because this gives a voice to migrants, and they can act as a kind of advisory board,” says Mervi Virtanen, Director of Integration Unit at the Ministry of the Interior.

Voting is planned for next year in parallel with the Finnish parliamentary elections. Every registered immigrant over 18 who has lived in Finland for at least two years will be able to take part.