Finnish recession: How will it affect their refugee response?

Thousands of Finns protested on Friday amid government cutbacks. While the country struggles through a recession, Prime Minister Juha Sipila remains focused on the refugee crisis. 

Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/Reuters
Finns protest against government cutbacks at the Central Railway Station in Helsinki, September 18, 2015.

Government cutbacks in Finland led to widespread protests Friday, leaving public transportation halted and ports closed.

After three years of recession, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s pro-austerity, center-right coalition government announced plans to revive the economy that included measures Finnish unions deemed “unacceptable.”

Holiday cutbacks, reduced housing allowances for pensioners, and reduced overtime and Sunday pay were among the measures taken.

"The Finnish state has contracted debt at a rate of almost a million euros (£730,000) per hour for seven years, day and night, every day of the week,” Mr. Sipila said in a televised broadcast on Wednesday. “We cannot continue like this."

Upwards of 30,000 protesters responded Friday, filling city streets and gathering outside the capital’s main train station. But in total, three unions representing nearly half of the country’s 5.5 million citizens protested, reported ABC News.

In response, Mr. Sipila tweeted that he would give unions until September 30 to come forward with alternative proposals.

Finland’s issue stems from an economic downturn that has caused unemployment to rise. The unemployment rate in July was 8.4 percent, down from near 12 percent in May, but up from 7 percent last July.

“Finland, once a top performer in the eurozone, has seen its economy crumble under the effects of its rapidly aging population and declines in key sectors of its economy such as forestry and technology,” reported Agence France-Presse.

The Financial Times also points to the slowdown in Russia and “a drastic loss of competitiveness compared with Sweden and Germany,” as contributing factors to Finland’s recession.

This crisis is unlike what Finland has seen in the past. “Now we have the stability provided by the euro, which gives us a false sense of safety. We shouldn’t give in to any sense of complacency,” Olli Rehn, Finnish economy minister told the Financial Times.

In light of the Finnish economic news, an equally important question has arisen: will the recession have an impact on Finland’s response to the refugee crisis?

Baltic officials have been cracking down on migrants with forged documents. Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian officials stopped and detained groups of Afghan and Iraqi migrants headed to Finland on Wednesday evening, reported ABC News. The migrants were staying illegally and attempting to enter Finland with fake documents.

Finland has seen 11,000 migrants cross its borders so far this year, up from just 3,600 last year. Most asylum seekers are Iraqi, entering from the north from Sweden. Five hundred migrants were processed on Thursday alone and close to one thousand were expected to enter the country today.

Though Finland remains opposed to mandatory quotas, the government did agree to accept 2,400 refugees, its share of the 120,000 migrant pool.

In a personal gesture early last week, Sipila offered to give up his home in central Finland to refugees, even stating a move-in date, the first concrete proposition from a politician, reported the Independent.

"I think our economic situation has become a smaller problem than the challenge from the refugees ... We are monitoring the situation hour by hour," Sipila told a news conference.

In his televised broadcast Wednesday, the prime minister urged Finns to “to find humanity” for refugees, “despite the economic predicament.”

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