Finnish PEN: Protection, food, shoes and ABC books


Statement of Finnish PEN, 9.12.2015, on the eve of International Human Rights Day.

As a member of PEN International, which promotes the freedom of expression of writers, Finnish PEN expresses its concern regarding the effects on human rights of the new government policy on asylum seekers. Within the action plan, the rights of asylum seekers will be significantly reduced, and they will be placed on an unequal footing relative to Finnish citizens. PEN, which helps writers under threat in various parts of the world, is concerned about the tougher policy at a time when the security of journalists and other writers continues to deteriorate in the world at large. In April 2015 PEN published a call for better protection for refugees. In accordance with its charter, PEN promotes freedom of expression and artistic freedom, and peace between nations throughout the world.

On 10 December International Human Rights Day will be celebrated. This year, Finland also celebrates 60 years of UN membership. UN Secretary Ban-Ki Moon visited the Finnish Foreign Ministry at a ceremony on 9 December. He appealed for Finnish support in aiding the 60 million refugees in the world. On 8 December the government published its action plan for dealing with asylum seekers. According to this plan, Finland aims to “stem the uncontrolled influx of refugees into our country.”

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This famous phrase comes at the start of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which borrowed words from the PEN Charter, and which was signed by Finland. The organisations have a close relationship: PEN has a consultative status in the UN. All humans are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law. Especially in the current world-wide international refugee crisis, the Finnish state and its citizens should honour Articles 13 and 14 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, according to which:

Article 13: “(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.”

Article 14 “(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

In an acute crisis, mediation for peace on its own is insufficient. Refugees need protection, food, shoes and ABC books – the teaching of literacy. The failings in the action plan relate especially to the measures set out in paragraph 2. PEN, which assists writers seeking asylum all over the world, views the granting of temporary residence permits as problematic. Within the plan, Finland does not commit itself to the protection of asylum seekers, nor to the creation of conditions for a stable life. Nor does the plan make any commitment to achieving integration in an optimal manner, creating instead double standards. The new plan propagates the notion that negative decisions are to be anticipated, and that people will be returned to their home countries. The abrupt “removal from the country” of a person who has received a negative decision will make it difficult to appeal against the decision. It should also be noted that “consulting with the governments of the countries of origin” may endanger the security of the person to be repatriated following a negative decision.

The measures are a sign of increasingly negative attitudes towards refugees. Now, more than ever, Finnish government leaders should speak on behalf of human rights and unity. The greatest threat to our country is division coming from within. People have a right to their opinions, but there can be no toleration of expressions of pure racial hatred, or of the violent acting out of such expressions. The Finnish government should intervene in this worrying development, which is appearing in different parts of the country, and it should do so with the same energy that it now manifests when it is worried about a possible external threat. A free and democratic Finland should not turn inwards. Those who possess power have great responsibility for the language they use, and for the message that the language conveys. The phrase “an uncontrolled influx of people” does nothing but add to threat scenarios. Every asylum seeker is an individual.

In honour of International Human Rights Day, 10 December, Pen International has published a series of accounts of the fate of writers who are living in exile, and also the actions taken by PEN to protect writers who are under threat.

On behalf of Finnish PEN
Sirpa Kähkönen, Chair
Johanna Sillanpää, Executive Director