About 30,000-35,000 people will file for asylum in Finland during 2015. Many Finns aren’t happy about it. Common complaints are that the refugees are slow to integrate, cause crime to increase and are expensive to maintain. This is generally true, but only in the short term.
Integration takes time. A lot of time. In fact, I would suggest that true integration doesn’t happen until the second generation. The first wave of immigrants can check off many of the boxes of integration, such as learning the language or getting a job, but they will always remain a bit of an outsider in their adopted society.
Accepting refugees will cost more money over the short term. However, studies have consistently shown that immigrants are net benefits to an economy over time. One of the most cited studies suggests GDP will increase by about one percent thanks to immigration. Some countries – like Finland – have a declining number of working-age people and immigration helps them even more than average.
Finland has extensive experience with refugees in its recent history. During the Winter and Continuation Wars about 70,000 Finnish children were sent as refugees to Sweden. The fact that Sweden helped us then but we are unwilling to help refugees today is a bit of an embarrassment. Swedish Foreign Minister Margo Wallström pointed out our hypocrisy in case we had missed it.
When the wars were over practically the entire population of Karelia – about 12 per cent of Finland’s population – was internally displaced and moved to the rest of Finland. In comparison the current number of refugees coming into Finland equals 0.6 per cent of the population, a miniscule amount compared to what Finns have dealt with in the past.
It is important to note something interesting about these episodes. I have never heard anyone, anywhere say that Sweden shouldn’t have helped Finnish children or that Finland shouldn’t have helped the Finns of Karelia.
While refugees are one thing, economic migrants are another. Up until the mid-20th Century America was the prime destination for Finns looking for a better life.
Let’s be honest: at the time many Americans were not happy about these immigrants. Reading through old articles is fascinating: in 1921 the Baltimore Sun wrote: ‘We have trouble enough of our own, without importing new ones from Europe’s slums.’ People today are saying the exact same thing, but substituting Syria or Africa for Europe.
There was a great deal of worry about immigrants’ lack of integration at the time and even anger towards the host nation. In 1920 the American Legion Weekly asked ‘Why are thousands [of foreigners] actually hostile in spirit towards the country and its institutions?’ This sounds eerily familiar to worries today about the imposition of Sharia law by migrants or terrorists slipping in with other refugees.
But fast forward to the America of today. In America there are no regrets about these past generations of migrants. This is an important point which is rarely, if ever, mentioned. The simple fact is that these migrants of years past enriched American culture and improved the economy. Why would they lament it when it was so beneficial to society? Those opposed to current immigration would do well to think about this.