Veera Ruoho’s opinions are particularly interesting since she is a member of the Parliament, but also a police officer with ansolid international experience. She has been member of the Finnish Parliament since May 2015. She has been a police officer since 1991, and has served in the United Nations for civil crisis management missions in the Balkans, Lebanon and Sudan. She has also graduated in political science in 2015, and she won a bronze medal in the World Championship of Taekwondo in 1993.
Why have you become a politician, and why with the Finn’s Party?
I’m fairly new in politics, actually. It was about 2012 when I decided to take part for this election for these municipal elections, and luckily enough, I was elected immediately to the Espoo city council. I took then some additional duties in Espoo, and then I was a candidate in this church council election, and I was also elected…
In the city council in Espoo, I quite quickly noticed that for a number of issues about which people were talking to me, if I really wanted to improve the situation, then I needed to go to the national level. So, I was lucky, once again, to be chosen as a candidate for the election at the Parliament of Finland, and then I got elected. It was a bit of a surprise, as it was my first time as a candidate in such a large region as Uusimaa. I guess that some people trust me because my background is in the police force. They probably appreciated that I have worked in the police for more than 20 years, with an international experience abroad in the United Nations, in the civilian crisis management.
And why join the Finns Party? It came quite naturally. I had to decide quite fast, as I decided quite late to join the municipal election. And at that time, my mother was the home carer of my father, who has had at that time a brain stroke that let hum handicapped. And the Finns Party was the only one who was raising this issue, asking to understand and recognize the work of the persons who are taking care of their relatives at home, and that the government support them better. So my choice was quite obvious then.
Of course, since I had been working in the police, and in the immigration police, I have also seen personally these problems related to immigration, and discovered that you cannot discuss them objectively in Finland: if you mention anything negative related to immigration, then you are immediately and wrongly positioned as a racist. In my case, I have a number of friends from different ethnic backgrounds here in Finland, but also abroad, where I have been traveling and working a lot. It is not a question of racism: because of my international background, because I have been doing these hearings for asylum seekers, because I have been doing these proposals to deport the immigrants who have committed aggravated crimes in Finland, I think that I have something realistic to say about this discussion. And refusing the discussion and treating us of racist instead is not helping Finland to handle correctly immigration, with it opportunities, but also its risks if we are not careful.
So I chose the Finns party, who was the only one who was quite openly bringing this issue up. I also found during the campaign that there were a lot of immigrants who were telling me that, “Hey, your party is bringing those issues up. It’s also, as immigrants, our concern” For example, some Somali men came to say, “Yes, it’s important to deport those bad people away as soon as possible, because they are spoiling our reputation as well, the ones who are working and behaving well.”
What is your opinion of the Paris events?
To be honest, I wasn’t so surprised at all. It was awful. It was so awful, and I feel so sorry for all the French people, and all of the relatives of the victims. I feel so sorry. I was so shocked, but I need, as I said, to be honest: I was not so surprised that these kinds of things are happening. And this is also something that’s a very sensitive issue: I am in the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and early this autumn, we were discussing with some of our Finnish authorities about this issue, and I spoke about the possibility that, among these immigration flows, there could be also some ISIS members. And it was immediately said that, “No, no, it’s not possible”, or “Of course it’s possible, but it’s not so likely that it will be happening, because they can use other ways.” But now, since we heard that there are two suspects who have, according to the Greek authorities, used this asylum seekers’ channel, that two of those terrorists had this kind of background, it is clear that we must consider the possibility, we can’t close our eyes.
Of course we know, and I think that everybody must understand and know, that the majority are the ones who are escaping this horror, the attacks which the terrorists are doing. But then, we need to be also realistic, and understand that that is a very easy way, also, for the bad people to enter Europe, and Finland.
And in your opinion, what should be done in Finland to protect our citizens?
First, I would say, that in general, Finland alone can do almost nothing. So, what I have been insisting since the beginning, is that there must be a common approach, between the EU and the UN, a global alliance with all the superpowers involved: if they are not united, then they can use their right to veto proposals, and the UN is paralyzed. We need to have some kind of UN resolution, or start a certain mandate or mission in the Middle East area, and for that we need a good cooperation between the UN, EU, and also, as well, the countries involved.
And I feel really bad that we had to wait until this kind of awful terrorist attacks and the loss of 129 people to see a closer cooperation between these superpowers, as well, and understand that we all have a common enemy to fight there. It is a too high price to pay! I spent one week in the States at the beginning of November, first in New York and then in Washington, and I visited the Pentagon. When I had the possibility, when we met the US authorities, and the US Representatives, and even the Russian ambassador, I asked a couple of times “Why are you two, Russia and the States, not operating together on this?” I know that there are some differences on how to approach the Syria issue, but still, it did not make sense. I was however satisfied to hear some of the US representatives admitting that considering the whole courses of these phenomena, they have also made a lot of mistakes in the past. It is a good thing to hear that they were not denying it; it gives hope for the future.
But anyhow, what Finland can do, of course, like I think was already mentioned in public as well, is help France by supporting it for its missions, and by providing cooperation with the police intelligence and work, because our resources are limited in defense areas. But certainly, whatever are the means, we need to work better together. As we know, in this world, we are not anymore isolated or alone.
Do you thing that the Finnish police has sufficient resources in this area?
From what I have learned during my UN peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, in Lebanon and in Sudan, the Finnish police experience and their capacity and knowledge is very highly respected, because we have very good training for the police. But if we think about the security policy in Finland, I feel that our law is not yet facilitating a proper police intelligence gathering, so that nowadays we are quite dependent on other countries’ generosity to get information. So the first thing would be to consider a new law.
I also consider that training abroad is very important to develop our experience and knowledge, and also to develop a mutual exchange of information, as these kind of things and create formal and informal networks. In my last mission in Darfur Istanbul, I was working that time with the UN police commander in the area. And I had colleagues from 17 different countries, and when you are working closely, for example in Darfur, in extreme conditions, you really get to know your colleagues and to exchange information and knowledge, it doesn’t matter which country you are from. The interesting thing is to discover that you always learn from each other, and that, as we all have a similar kind of mindset, there are no problems. We are always brothers and sisters. Sometimes, you come thinking, “Hey, I’m coming from Europe. We know about these things.” No, you can always learn, from your African, Asian or American brothers and sisters.
So, even if we have already this exchange of police experts, based in different cities around the world, we should deepen it.
What about the screening of refugees?
Our security police has always done this screening, even if we don’t too much talk about that, and it is very important, I think. Today Asylum seekers have the right to come and ask for asylum, even if they do not have any kind of identity documents. We have the duty to take care of them, but you need also to take care of Finland’s security, it is one of the main duties of the state. Therefore, we must know who this person arriving as an asylum seeker is really. In more than 99 % of the case, In many of the cases it is a real asylum seeker, but also he or she can be a bad person with bad intentions, so it is natural that the security police a look in the asylum seekers from this perspective. It has always been the case. And we are experienced, also, in that area.
More generally, are you happy with the work done by the coalition government since April?
We have taken decisions, and it is important for the country: the problem with the previous government was that they were not able to take any decision. And what I like, for example, is the way Prime Minister Sipilä is working. He is sometimes criticized because he tells something, and then he is pulling it back, but for me it means that he is capable of listening to others, which is quite precious. Since May, he said to the opposition that if they have good ideas, he will take them. Some previous Prime Minister would have said “No, no, it’s not coming from the government side. I don’t take it into consideration”, but he is not like that. And it is very important for Finland: the situation in Finland is so bad, so that we can’t be divided in opposite groups, we all need, government plus opposition, to work to the same direction.
And so, I like those issues. Of course, from the perspective of our party, the Finns Party, there have been some decisions which have been very painful for us. But we understand that this is now the time to act, that we don’t have too much possibility to do anything else. Of course, for example, we were very happy now that the government was deciding not to cut pensioners’ housing support. And it is because of our work, because we thought that it’s even morally wrong.
Since the negotiations to compose a new government, we in the Finns’ Party have worked a lot and we will see those results in the beginning of next year, when we finalize the laws. For example, we insisted to tighten a lot immigration policies, because we see all these people that are coming in Finland right now. Their number is so big that we don’t have the resources to provide a correct level of services and support. So therefore, we are planning to cut the social support to some kind of minimal level, so that it will encourage people to take responsibility of their own lives more, seek for work and education…
Of course, we understand that sometimes, for some immigrants, it’s not easy to get to work, we need to find ways to help and encourage them…
Are you proposing something to help asylum seekers to learn about the Finnish culture and the Finnish rules and customs?
Yes, that has been even demanded by my colleagues who are working in the immigration police. One officer told me that, when an asylum seeker comes to the police station and asks for asylum, the paper we give them first is, “These are your rights. You are entitled to this and this,” but we would also need to give them another paper saying “Here are your obligations, and what you cannot do and say in Finland”.
Of course, people are concerned about this. We know that the majority of those coming are young men, and it has caused a lot of concerns, since there are incidents, such as mainly sexual harassment, and some rapes. And we see that it is because they come from cultures where women’s position is different than in our countries. Our girls and women are in a different position here. So we need to be very clear about that topic when people arrive, and to react at the first incident.
Is it because they come from countries where the religious law is superior to the normal law, and the role of women in these culture is quite different, based on it?
Yes, but they have to understand that the Finnish law and customs apply here. It was the same way when I was in Sudan. I respected the law and the local culture. Whenever I went to certain celebrations and all that, then I dressed like a local. I used these local dresses, and asked for help on how to put them on. So I would expect the immigrants to behave in the same respectful way, and the majority of them are doing it.
About the government, is there still something on which the Finns Party is looking for changes?
We should take a better care of the small companies. Small entrepreneurs have been forgotten, mainly because the National Coalition Party Kokoomus are mainly interested in big companies and corporations, which is a problem as they have a tendency to forget about Finland. I was really delighted when we visited Brussels, and even the United States, to realize that today the focus is more on the small companies, in order to make their life and development easier. There are so many unemployed people in Finland, and there’s just not work enough, so if one person can make a living for himself by starting up a little company, it should be simple to create and to manage. We would like also that the government supports them, for example to help women entrepreneur during pregnancy, as they have no support as they have to stop their company during quite a long time.
We need also to have more respect for our elderly people, it is one of our main worries. When you are retired, you kind lose your importance, you are not anymore considered. It is a bad tendency, we need to respect them, as they have built Finland. And if you listen to them, you don’t have to hit your own head to the wall to reinvent what they know. They are also contributing in our society, for example by taking care of their grandchildren, or of sick relatives, or providing locally their expertise. So, in our party, it is one of our priorities.
Also, we have had some weeks ago a debate in the Parliament about the fact that if both parents are unemployed, they can bring their baby for 8 hours to the daycare. And we thought that it is too much, and we decided to cut it to 20 hours per week. And I think that that’s a very good decision.
Is there anything else you want to fight for in the next four years in the Parliament?
My profession, the police—that is obvious for me. And I am very concerned about the fact that we plan to cut the number of our police officers. I know how much they work, and it is a strange situation that they have a lot more work today than in old times, and then we have those plans to reduce their number. But today, we don’t have to worry about that issue. We are actually raising the number of the police officers. But the reason is this immigration flow, and I am sure that they are still risks in the future that we cut again in the police, which means in our security. I will fight to avoid it!