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27 juin 2007 3 27 /06 /juin /2007 08:16

Un blog fourre-tout sur divers aspect de la vie en Finlande.
Avec récemment des articles sur "Comment s'en sortir sans connaître le finnois ?"
"Mésaventures linguistiques", "le portrait de la  Ministre des migrations et des Affaires européennes Astrid Thors"...
A noter l'appellation intéressante de ce ministère qui relie immigration et Affaires européennes et s'écarte du nauséabond Ministère de l'immigration et de l'identité nationale du couple Sarkozy-Heurtefeux.

ASTRID THORS Minister of Migration and European Affairs

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ASTRID THORS photo Photo Jacek Walczak
ASTRID THORS photo Photo Jacek Walczak

As the first minister in a newly created post, Astrid Thors wants to improve integration and tackle racism, while cutting the bureaucratic hurdles affecting migration to Finland.

On your blog, you wrote about the new ministers being house-trained six months into their mandate. At what stage do you feel that you are now?
I feel that the honeymoon is over, that it is time to roll up the sleeves and start working. But I don’t feel completely house-trained yet! You see my big bag over there? Well, that is how much there is for me to learn. Another factor is that this time more changes have been made to the division of responsibilities than during the past 20-30 years. This means that we have to begin by creating new administrative units. In practice we are determining who is going to work with what, setting up computer systems and so on.

Your web pages had to be closed down because of threats and racist comments. How is the situation now?
Fortunately, it was a rather short-lived phenomenon, and lately I have not received as many messages of the unpleasant kind. I think the Finnish people are also becoming more mature in this regard. However, I haven’t been able to reopen the guestbook since I don’t have the resources to supervise it.

In a speech you delivered in Porvoo in May, you said that integration is a mutual process, and that all inhabitants here in Finland should feel like we are part of the same society. How can this be achieved?
I think that the system of public services has to be adapted to today’s needs. Let me give you a concrete example. We have an Employment Agency (Työvoimatoimisto) – but how do you know what this agency can do for you if you are new in the country? How would you know that this is where you can find help and answers to your questions? Already for a while, there has been a clear demand for easily accessible services. I will give you two examples. Social Services has an office like this in Eastern Helsinki, and then there is the Swedish-speaking information centre Luckan. I find it really interesting that a third of Luckan’s customers are New Finns.

We also have a lot to learn from other countries in this field, and it is important that we can make use of the experiences of others. The development of information and guidance services is actually included in the government programme.

Concerning the mutual process, I think the most important thing is that we listen to the different groups of New Finns and how they would like to see the services organised. A concrete example would be to provide more first language education in nursery schools.

One of your first public appearances as a Minister was at Ourvision, the alternative song contest for people with an immigrant background. What did you think about the event?
I thought the competition was very high class, and that the participants would have been successful in any singing competition. What surprised me, though, was the extent that the English language dominated.

In a way Ourvision was created as a parallel structure to the ESC held in Helsinki. What do you think about parallel structures in general?
I think that there are situations where parallel structures are needed in order for people to cultivate their own traditions. This is something we can learn from the Finland-Swedish culture, that sometimes it is important to have spaces and opportunities of your own. What is crucial, however, is that everyone has access to information and has the possibility to influence things, and that you can maintain a dialogue between different groups. We should try to find out how the public school system can best strengthen everyone in their development. Cultural activities can sometimes benefit from being done separately, while sports can be a space where you come together again.

Have you worked with similar themes earlier in your career?
Yes, already as a member of parliament I was very interested in questions of migration and integration. I have tried to follow the European debate, as well as organize various discussions around themes like these. As of January 2007, I was also chosen as the chairwoman for the Refugee Advice Centre. Unfortunately, that career was very short-lived.

In most political documents that you read, the word immigration is preceded by the prefix work-related. Do you think this is problematic?
What I find problematic is if you separate these gateways. We will be more successful with our active immigration policies if we get rid of discrimination and can engage in fair refugee politics. You cannot only take care of part of the question, you have to see the bigger picture.

The former School Minister in Sweden, Ibrahim Baylan, said that a very important aspect regarding immigration is that everyone should be provided an opportunity to do something for their new country. What do you think about this idea, and how could it be achieved?

Many people here are inspired by the same thought, wanting to specifically emphasise employment. As Lutheran a country as this is, integration happens largely through employment. We have tried to underline that the first integrative measures should not be rendering people passive. An important role is also played by the voluntary sector, i.e. the organisations where New Finns get a voice. Everyone should feel they have a chance to influence politics.

Have you met representatives for the organisations of the New Finns that you referred to?
So far, I have met representatives for several organisations, like Russian organisations, friendship groups, support groups, as well as the Swedish People’s Party’s group Multicultural Finland, but my hope is to meet many more!

You are the first person to hold your present job. How has this affected the work itself?
There are always apprehensions about new arrangements. Furthermore, this new system meant combining units from the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Interior. The Ombudsman for Minorities will also move to the Ministry of the Interior – but that position is different and totally independent from the ministry. Therefore, it is important to stress, especially in media read by people who do not yet speak Finnish, that we strive to retain the Ombudsman for Minorities as strong an authority as before, and that everyone can fully trust his unbiased position.

Is there something specific that you would want to have achieved by the end of your mandate?
I hope that it will have become easier and less bureaucratic to apply for a residence permit, that we could see people even better integrated than before, and that we will have been able to tackle racism. Another issue I strongly hope that we can resolve concerns the so-called “B-permits”. They have become a buffer, and the system has become way more extensive than was originally thought. This is a legislative question that will be brought up in the parliament next autumn.

How do you plan to tackle racism?
I would like to learn from other countries and different projects that have been carried out. I would especially like to get rid of the racism on the internet. Another approach we should pursue is enabling the police and prosecutors to better identify racist crimes, as well as have the courage to take these crimes seriously.

How much are you in touch with migration and people that have moved to Finland from other countries in your private life?
I can tell you that many of my friends have been fortunate enough to lure New Finns to our country, so I have been able to follow many of these issues through them. The husband of one of my friends, Tom Allen, was an expert in drilling for oil, but he could not be employed at Neste when he first came here in the 1970s because he was a foreigner. Now he was just chosen the Entrepreneur of the Year in Eastern Uusimaa. I think this is an excellent example of how you can find opportunities even when doors seem to be closed in front of you.

My other contact link is through the Reception Centre in Oravais, Ostrobothnia, which is the village where I spend my summers. Through friends I have come into contact with the activities that are taking place there. I have heard about the challenges but also seen how much appreciated many people have become in the village! Among other things, there is a very active friendship service, as well as a home for under-age asylum seekers.

What about yourself, have you lived abroad and experienced customs different to your own?
No, not really, except for shorter periods when I was commuting to Brussels, staying the working days there, the weekends at home. To my shame I must admit that I don’t have any other real experience than the normal frustration felt when the forms that need to be filled look different. From Brussels what comes to mind is when we tried for the third time to get all the permits from the police in order to bring in a piece of furniture that we had just bought. When you are new in town, you don’t know where to turn with your questions and problems. I have to say, though, that I was very privileged, the way that I lived in Brussels, and most things were taken care of for us.

Your new title is Minister of Migration and European Affairs. What about the European issues?
For me it is a great pleasure and a matter of great importance to work on integrating the 12 new member states into the EU. We have just been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and in many ways it really feels like a “success story Europe”. Europe is doing well today! I just heard a forecast that the 11 states that have the euro currency are believed to have a stronger economic growth than the USA at the end of the year. I think we have all the possibilities to create a positive climate in Europe.

Astrid Thors
Born in 1957 in Helsinki. Lives in Helsinki, married with Juhani.
Education: Master of Law
Member of the Finnish Parliament 2004-Member of the European Parliament 1996-2004
Minister of Migration and European Affairs 2007 onwards
Hobbies: theatre, racket-games, literature

Heidi Johansson

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