Welat Nehri, who may become the first Finnish Member of the Finnish Parliament of non European origin, expresses his views on the future of Finland. He has proven his capacities professionally in the IT field at Kuntaliito, and his political capacities in a number of associations and in particular when chairing the Network of Multicultural Associations Moniheli. He has a lot of energy and ideas to bring to the Finnish political life in the Parliament, and sometimes appears to be more Finnish than a lot of people born here.
Can you tell about your life?
I moved to Finland from Kurdistan together with my parents and siblings in 1991, due to the political situation that we had at the time. My father was a member of a political party working for the self-determination and cultural rights of the Kurds and creation of a democratic model to replace Islamic totalitarian regime in Iran. Political life there is very tough: if you are a politician and not in favour of the regime, you are classified as an enemy of the government and God! In Kurdistan, I was a teenager, I left my home land when I was 17.
When I arrived in Finland, I went back to the upper secondary school and then did a Bachelor degree in computer science at Espoo – Vantaa Institute of Technology, which was merged to Metropolia later. Later I continue my studies in the same field at Helsinki University of Technology, now called Aalto University, graduated as Master of Science in 2008.
Before the studies, I was working as an interpreter and as a salesman. At some point I established my own company. So during the studies and after that, I have all the time been working. After 1998, I have been more or less working in Information Technology related fields: first for Siemens for 3 years then in mobile software company 2,5 years. I have been working as ICT specialist and planning manager in IT department of the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (Kuntaliitto) for last 10 years.
In addition to this I have been active in NGOs with Kurdish and multicultural associations. Currently, I am the Chairman of Moniheli: a Network of over 70 Multicultural Associations, and the Chairman of the Alliance of Kurdish associations of Finland (Kurdiliitto).
As a political character, I am a board member of Social Democrat Party’s Töölö branch, a member of Helsinki districts’ assembly and member of Gender Equality Committee of City of Helsinki. I am regularly writing articles for my blog, web-site and newspapers. In addition to this I actively contribute in social media and discussion groups.
You see that I am quite busy!
What was bringing you into politics?
Politics has always been a part of my life. When I was a child my parents were into politics. Then in Finland, I have been active in associations, which is another way to be into politics, to participate in public life. Then I wanted as a citizen to be more involved in Finland politics, and to influence the way things are running. I have already been a candidate in the last municipal elections 2 years ago, I was elected as member of gender equality committee, and now I am candidate for the Parliament.
When I considered joining a party, I had 2 choices: the Social Democratic Party or the Greens, because they are trying to take into consideration all elements of the society, for example dealing with poverty, with social problems, and with the integration of foreigners. However, for me, the Social Democratic Party is the one who has created the welfare society we live in, in the Nordic countries, and at the moment we are in a point where the question is how to keep the public services we have in the country, how to maintain the welfare we benefit from. I have strong believe that Social Democrats are key for maintaining and developing welfare society.
How is the campaign going?
It goes well. I started at the beginning of this year, as it would have been too far from the election to begin in 2014, and I know that the last 2 months of the campaign will be key. I am collecting the necessary money, I have a good team, people from my work, from different multicultural associations, and people joining through the network we created in social media. And the articles I write in newspapers and on the web interest people, they provide comments and are joining me, which makes quite a group, 25 to 30 people. But I will have to do a lot myself in the last weeks, indicating what I really want to do and change when I am elected.
What do you see as the main challenges for Finland for the next 4-5 years?
My main slogan for the election is “For a secure and fair Finland”, and those 2 words, security and fairness, are the things on which I am working and that I want to keep alive, as they are precious.
Security has to be considered as a whole, internationally and internally.
There is the question of NATO, and I am not supportive of Finland joining it, as Finland is for me is between East and West, being subject to pressures by different powers and as the same time able to make a link between them. In its history, Finland has a long history of relations with Russia, and also with Sweden and Scandinavian countries. In such a situation, the best for Finland is to be able to create a model for others of what can be a peaceful country, thus participating in the stabilisation of the European Union as a whole, and not to be a part of the problems that happens at the borders between Russia and the West.
But another aspect of security is internal, it is security in our daily life: having a work, having a family, educating our children, being a member of a minority and well integrated at the same time, all this without fearing for our security. We have some ongoing challenges: some young people have lost control of their life, they may take part in radical activities and become a threat. We have people who are leaving Finland to take part in the war in the Middle East, over fifty of them, radically-minded, which is the proof of a real problem, and they also may create issues for Finland when they come back. We need tools to control what is happening and prevent it, and it is not only the police who has the solutions, more probably the Finnish society as a whole.
Fairness, on the other hand, is a challenge in this society, as we have quite a big number of poor people, homeless issues, and too small pensions for those who had a low salary during their work life or did not work in Finland sufficiently long… Fairness is also a concern for foreigners living in Finland, with some groups of people in all Europe pushing people to have an attitude of rejection towards them, asking to close the borders, wanting to refuse foreigners in Finland even through international agreements and to send immigrants back to their countries of origin without even considering the dangers.
In addition, there is the question of the salaries which are not equal for the same work: women get less salary than men, and foreigners working in Finland are still in a worse situation. In average, specialists use to say that the euro of a woman is 82 cents, and the euro of a foreigner is around 75 cents…
So my objective is to correct this, and create an atmosphere which is fair for all the members of the Finnish society, for all the people who are living in our country, Finland. That is really a main point for me. And actually we are right now living times where choices have to be made: do we want to live in a caring society, as it had been during the last decades, or are we going to let things be run by the private sector on the basis of pure competition, and let develop unfairness and inequalities?
I am not against improving the existing Finnish model, we need for that to proceed to adjustments taking into account the changes in the world, in the economy, and not forgetting any member of our society.
What would you like to see as the first law on your desk after your election?
At the beginning of this year, we got a new Non-Discrimination Act. It is a good law, but how it will be implemented is another question. What is important is the implementation decrees, and I would like to control the way it is done, as the law itself is just a paper if there is not a right implementation.
There is also the discussion on NATO, and we should consider seriously how to deal with it, particularly now that we have issues with Russia and Ukraine. I expect that it will be discussed.
How could Finland ensure a better integration of refugees?
I am just writing an article about the reports from EVA indicating that the number of immigrants should be doubled to keep a correct number of people at work, in relation with the number of pensioners: they say that we need new people to work and pay the taxes.
We certainly need more work power, but there is an issue: at the moment, the unemployment rate in Finland is around 8 %, but for some groups of immigrants it is over 50 %! It proves that the integration policy is unsuccessful. For this reason, we cannot take 100 immigrants knowing that 50 of them will have problems and will not be able to work. The only solution is that we deal with the long-term unemployed, Finnish or immigrants: we need to train them to adapt to the needs of the job market, it should be dealt with before grooving the number of new immigrants.
For the integration process itself, I feel that the cities should work more on Finnish language, which is determinant, and also should concentrate on educating people arriving on the way we live, we work, we are active in the society here in Finland, which is not easy for them to understand rapidly by themselves. Even if those arriving here as refugees were not coming initially to work, if we want to integrate them, they should be considered as fast as possible as having the same rights as Finnish citizens: they should be able to learn the language, have schools for their children, have cultural rights, in order to create an environment which is secure and safe for their families and concentrate on being useful in Finland. Integration comes from contacts, from networks, from relations with native Finns, which is a very weak part of integration in Finland at the moment.
What do you think we should do concerning the Greek crisis?
I think that Finland has done enough. In the beginning, when accepting Greece in the EU, we have been very soft and Greece has not really shown honestly what was happening in the country. Then with the participation in the euro, it did not function, because of corruption, privileges given to different groups of the society, and the lack of financial and economic control. Finland has already supported Greece, done a lot to keep Greece in the EU, so now the key is in the hand of the Greek people. They have a new and fresh government, and I am quite optimistic that they will find a way. Ireland had bigger issues, and they solved them, having now a very low unemployment. Greece got support, loans, and good conditions for these loans with low interest rates, they have to find the way. Their politicians have to go against corruption and adopt a more European behaviour.
Would you like to add something?
One of the issues in politics for immigrants is that we are not voting as actively as we should, with in some groups a voting rate of 20 %. It is important for the immigrants to be active in all aspects of life, in work, in family, in schools, in associations, but also it is important to vote. Immigrants can be candidates, they can join any party, but in order to have their voice heard, they should also vote, whatever their origin is. The Parliament is deciding for the long term what will be the future of Finland, and it is a good challenge for the immigrants to also be heard there!
If immigrants are unemployed how does it imply that integration policy is unsuccessful? Why not create an immigration policy that accepts people with skills that are much needed to boost Finnish economy and keep welfare costs under control? You suggest that the state should first take 100 immigrants and then train them to be market ready. Its a good gesture but not when we have 125 billion dollar public debt.
Integration is a two way process, and in most cases the immigrant needs to go that extra mile to integrate. This might mean making changes in his lifestyle or trying out traditions in the new culture.
I would pass responsibility of the society if any on to self help groups created by immigrants themselves. By the immigrants for the immigrants to provide that little help that is sometimes needed to foster integration.
My opinion is that Finland should create immigration policies which attract skilled manpower in high tech, healthcare, public transportation, culinary skills etc. And I don’t mean people who can only earn 6 figure salaries. For example, Netherlands had a 30% flat tax ruling for tech professionals for the first 10 years.
Estonia allows e-citizenship for anyone who is willing to setup a new venture in Estonia. We have to be creative in attracting skilled manpower.
With the kind of statistics we have (big data) its possible to create a dynamic policy which tunes the immigration intake every year to bridge the skill gaps.
Best of luck in your campaign though.