When the Finnish Prime Minister opens his own house to refugees, Angela Merkel opens boldly Germany’s borders to the Syrian refugees, followed with some reluctance by Francois Hollande in France and David Cameron in the UK. Will Finland follow the German Chancellor, or stay in the group of opponents led by Hungarian autocrat Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who sees the arrival of refugees as a Muslim invasion and has built a wall on its border?
Juha Sipilä offers his empty house to the refugees
The Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä has offered Saturday to host refugees in his empty house, located in Kempele, 500 km north of Helsinki. He explained “my house is not so much in use now“. Before that, he had already launched multiple calls to the Finns to show solidarity towards those who arrive in the country, and when proposing his house, he said: “I hope this will become a sort of popular movement that will inspire many to take their share of responsibility in this housing crisis of refugees. I want to make my contribution to the building to show that Finland is a multicultural country“.
It shows that he is personally a good person, but as a Prime Minister it will not be sufficient: the reception capacity of Finland for asylum seekers is now saturated, with 25,000 to 30,000 asylum applications expected in 2015, seven to eight times more than in 2014. The public authorities are pushing to open more centers or to increase the capacity of existing ones, but it is quite difficult with the opposition of one of the main parties in the governmental coalition (populist extreme right Perussuomalaiset, the Finns’ Party) and, according to YLE news, local opposition in a number of towns such as Askola, Hämeenkyrö, Kuortane and Taivalkoski, and in the region of South Ostrobothnia.
Mama Merkel, an generous and practical leader for Europe
He may be inspired by Angela Merkel, who has not only shown her kindness for people obliged to leave their countries because of the ongoing wars, but has also taken a bold move as a real leader. Berlin has announced on the 25th of August that it will stop sending back asylum seekers to the country by which they entered the European Union, even if it was provided for in the Dublin agreements. The move was recognized by the European Commission as an “act of European solidarity.” “This is a recognition that we can not leave the Member States at the external borders only manage the large number of asylum seekers seeking refuge in Europe,” said Natasha Bertauds, spokesperson of the European Commission. Germany is still the only one who made the decision among the member states.
In a recent article, the magazine Newsweek writes: “The refugees making life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean and through Europe have a new hero—German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While Europe has largely flailed in the face of the greatest such crisis since the end of World War II, Merkel has provided rare leadership. The most powerful country in Europe expects to take in 800,000 people this year, four times as many as it did in 2014. Instead of tightening border controls and insisting the country has no room for more refugees, as some governments have done, the German government has made it clear that it will welcome large numbers of the people fleeing the conflict in Syria and other troubled parts of the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Asylum seekers have taken to calling the German leader “Mama Merkel.”
Newsweek is seeing two reasons for this bold move: a first one is that Merkel and Germany have benefited after the last war of the support of the United States and other former enemies of Germany who “contributed huge financial and practical resources to help the country recover economically and politically. More recently, East Germans—including Merkel, who was born in West Germany but grew up in East Germany after her Lutheran father accepted a pastorate in the Soviet protectorate—were embraced by their West German neighbors after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989“. Stefan Kornelius, author of Angela Merkel: The Authorized Biography indicates that “There is no moral questioning of her motives.”
But according to Newsweek, the second motive has little to do with generosity. Accepting skilled and educated refugees like Syrians is in Germany’s economic self-interest, and the educative system in considered of good quality, with 9 years of education and a good university system, with in particular a strong emphasis on engineering and medecine. The German population is falling rapidly, in part because of low birth rates, and the German economic machine needs new qualified workers.
Finland could think about these arguments, and offer a little more than the house of the Prime Minister… beginning with lifting Finland’s opposition to sharing the burden of refugees.
Even David Cameron moves to support the Syrian refugees
Criticized for its lack of involvement in the refugee crisis, Prime Minister David Cameron has been under an increasing pressure of public opinion in Britain, which calls for more aid to refugees and migrants. He has announced that the UK is finally ready to “do more” to overcome the crisis of migrants in Europe. “Given the scale of the crisis and suffering people, I can announce today that we will do more, welcoming thousands more Syrian refugees,” he has said to the press in Lisbon after a meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister Passos Coelho. “We continue our approach of get them from refugee camps,” he noted, referring to the camps by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the Syrian border. “This gives them a safer and more direct route to the UK, in order to avoid the risk of a hazardous journey that has made so many dead“. This could be an important point to discuss among the EU Ministers.
Francois Hollande, the French president, has recently joined Angela merkel’s position, after showing some reluctance to accept more refugees.
Avoiding to replicate the scandal of Evian Conference in 1938
Finland has not be really involved as a host country in previous times when refugees have flooded in some European countries. At the end of the 15th Century, Jewish people have been pushed away from Spain, and then the European wars of religions have pushed out of their countries hundreds of thousands of people. During the last century, in 1933, when the Nazis took the power in Germany, 60 000 Jews were fleeing the country and became refugees, without serious difficulties in the countries where they arrived.
However in 1938, after German’s invasion of Austria, the Evian conference has been a failure which may have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews who were prevented from leaving Germany and Austria. According to Wikipedia, it was convened at the initiative of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to respond to the plight of the increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Europe by the Nazis. For eight days, from July 6 to 15 at Évian-les-Bains, France, representatives from 32 countries and 39 private organizations and some 24 voluntary organizations met and formally discussed the issue among themselves. The dispossessed and displaced Jews of Austria and Germany were hopeful that this international conference would lead to acceptance of more refugees and safe haven. Hitler responded to the news of the conference by saying essentially that if the other nations would agree to take the Jews, he would help them leave.
As it may happen now in Brussels, national egoism and hypocrisy made that the conference proved a failure: the countries refused to accept more refugees, the result being that the Jews had no escape and were ultimately subject to what was known as Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.
Are we going to behave in the same way now? Some of the conditions are similar, with an economic crisis which provokes fear in front of the arrival of large number of refugees, and with the populist/extreme-right parties more powerful in certain European countries than in the thirties. But Angela Merkel’s position has provoked positive evolution in a number of countries who are more opened to help and support the Syrian refugees: France, UK, Netherlands for example have changed their minds about the question of quotas.
So is Finland position going to be defined by Juha Sipilä or Timo Soini? By generosity or by fear?