Amid signs of growing animosity in Finland toward a newly arriving refugee population, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö used his address Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly to urge European policymakers to band together to solve an "unprecedented humanitarian crisis." There were multiple ultranationalist protests against accepting migrants throughout the weekend in the northern European country, with some demonstrators donning the costumes of the Ku Klux Klan.
“We are now facing an extremely dangerous crisis in Syria,” Niinistö said Tuesday. The influx of thousands of people fleeing war-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa and arriving on Europe's shores by the tens of thousands throughout the summer has led to an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe unlike any since the Second World War,” he added.
Niinistö and his government have agreed to take in 3,190 refugees as part of an EU quota. His prime minister, Juha Sipila, even offered to temporarily house refugees in his own home. Nearly 500,000 people, more than half of them fleeing the civil war in Syria, have arrived in the European Union since January, according to the United Nations, and several thousand of them have expressed interest in coming to Finland, a Nordic nation known for its strong economy and good social benefits.
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) September 28, 2015
Several anti-immigration protests occurred in multiple parts of Finland in the last week in a backlash against the influx. In addition to the KKK-inspired protests north of Helsinki, during which people threw rocks at refugees, a man was arrested in another part of the country for throwing a Molotov cocktail into a temporary shelter for refugees, the New York Times reported Friday.
One Finnish professor of world politics told the public radio station YLE Monday that he feared how the anti-immigrant protesters, no matter how small in number, would taint Finland's reputation. "We are slipping away from being perceived as a tolerant, affluent Nordic family due to these recent incidents," said Teivo Teivainen of Helsinki University.
"We are fast approaching the same black hole with our attitude towards immigrants as Hungary," said Teivainen. "Finland's combined domestic and foreign policy is not looking good. Finland's reputation has been destroyed quite effectively."
“The international community must show that we do care," Niinistö said Tuesday about Finland's need to set a good example. While noting that some neighboring countries, like Sweden, have taken in more refugees, the Finnish head of state said his nation has been receiving a high number of people per capita.
Germany has said it will receive as many as 800,000 refugees by the end of 2015. However, the population in Germany is 16 times that of Finland, and the Finnish president reiterated that the country was doing what it could given its size.
“Not helping is not an option for us, but we need to find more effective and sustainable ways,” Niinistö said.