Aiming to turn a monologue into a dialogue, the ipf can revolutionise how immigrants participate in their new homelands.
Discussions about immigration are running hot in Finland, and it will be a major topic in the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2011. Finnish political parties have had some immigrant candidates, but none has been elected to parliament so far. Now a new initiative aims to build immigrants their own parliament. A long period of planning has turned into action and a group of influential immigrants have joined forces to make it happen. Alexis Kouros, Umayya Abu-Hanna, Ahmed Akar, Jeremy Gould, Mustafa Gürler, Eilina Gusatinsky and Mulki Mölsä have formed the establishing committee that aims to initiate this new democratic process. Each is from a different country and has lived in Finland for more than 20 years.
Immigrant Parliament of Finland (IPF) will be the first of its kind in the world. An old and successful model, democracy, is taken into new use to give a unified voice to the immigrant community and help them integrate into Finnish society. If all goes well, by the time the newly elected Finnish eduskunta convenes next year, there will also be an immigrant parliament in Finland. Here Alexis Kouros explains what IPF is and why we need it badly, for the sake of both immigrants and the Finnish society at large.
What is the Immigrant Parliament of Finland and why do we need it?
Immigrant Parliament of Finland (IPF) is an independent and non-political organisation where elected members of the immigrant community would come together and discuss mainly immigrant-related issues and present their views to the Finnish society, government and officials. This will solve the problem of a currently absent unified voice from the immigrant community. There is a lot of discussion about immigration and immigrants, but the immigrant community is talked about - not talked to or listened to. In cases where an immigrant appears as an adviser on immigration issues, he cannot currently represent anything more than his own opinion.
IPF will change that. The voice of the immigrant community will be presented to the society in a democratic fashion. This voice cannot be ignored any more. On the other hand, officials and the media will find a partner in IPF. Hopefully this will start a dialogue – instead of the ongoing monologue.
Does such a parliament exist in other countries?
No. As far as we know, this is the first of its kind in the world. We hope that this will spread to other places. It will certainly revolutionise the way immigrants participate in their new countries’ affairs and discussions.
There are so many immigrant organisations, why not use them?
At the moment there are numerous immigration- and integration-related organisations in Finland but they are all built around a topic, function or ideology. Unifying them all would not solve the problem, as most immigrants are not involved in those activities. The IPF is in no way a replacement or competition for any of those activities, which are all necessary. The same goes to Finnish society in general - there are hundreds of NGOs and yet there is a parliament. In fact, these two balance each other. There are also some advisory boards, but their members are selected by officials – not immigrants.
Who can vote and who can be elected?
The “voting register” will be almost the same as it is for the municipal elections regarding non-citizens. All those immigrants of legal age, who have been in Finland for at least two years and are here on a non-temporary basis can vote. This excludes, for example, exchange students and those asylum seekers who have not yet got a residence permit. The official statistics for who is regarded as immigrant is unclear. Our basic idea is to give all of those who are in any way considered as immigrants in Finland a chance to make themselves heard. Like e.g. second-generation immigrants who may have a strong Finnish identity, but are not always fully accepted as Finns. I’d also take adopted children in as voters for the same reason; sadly, Finnish society often does not see them as Finns. I know quite a few cases where these kids move to other places when they grow up.
This will of course correct itself through participation; those who don’t see themselves as immigrants will not participate even if they had the option. Of course, the IPF can make adjustments and changes as we go. Those who can vote can also become candidates if considered trustworthy.
How are you going to arrange the voting process?
The voting will occur electronically. We try to get help from the Ministry of Justice and the Population Register and also ask for sponsorship from an IT company that can help with the technical aspects.
Why not try to send candidates to the Finnish parliament?
Even if we had a few immigrant candidates in the parliament, that would not provide a unified immigrant voice. MPs are elected by a general vote, which in some cases could even be damaging for immigrants. If, let’s say, an extremely assimilated immigrant is elected, he may be out of touch with the immigrant community, but still considered as representing it. In a worst-case scenario, an anti-immigrant person with a foreign background may be elected. This person could attack the immigrant community and still be protected because of his ethnic background.
Larger groups, such as Russians, will have more representatives and some small groups none. How are you going to avoid that?
This is inevitable. But then again, this is the downside of representative democracy in general. The Tatar, Sami and Roma minorities, for example, do not have a single representative in the Finnish parliament. In some countries the parliaments have quotas for such minorities. There certainly should be a quota of at least one Sami, Tatar and Roma in the Finnish parliament. The quotas are difficult to apply in the IPF because it is made of numerous small ethnic groups. However, we are going to examine this before the parliament is up and running.
Isn’t this too optimistic? The immigrant community in Finland is diverse with more differences than similarities. Can they sit together and stand behind resolutions that some of them disagree with?
That is both true and unfortunate. I think that the immigrant community should not see each other as competitors. We may have lots of differences, starting from culture and religion to education, language and skin colour. But we should be able to put those behind us and focus on what we have in common: on what is affecting our lives in a significant way i.e. the status of being an immigrant in Finland.
Believe it or not, this “immigrant identity” is out of our control. I have lived in Finland for 20 years and have Finnish citizenship but I’m not accepted in the society as a “Finn” and there is nothing that I can do to change that. I’m afraid that even my kids will have the same problem.
I think the idea of one language/one ethnicity/one country is absurdly European. Most countries in Asia and Africa consist of several ethnic groups, languages and religions, and still are considered a nation. Yet while the EU was forming, some countries in Europe were breaking up and people were regrouping inside their ethnic or language borders. Some peacefully, like Czechoslovakia, and others violently, like Yugoslavia. Now, Belgium is falling apart. Most of us immigrants have a higher tolerance and understanding of diversity – both because of our cultures as well as our current situation.
How do you think the Finnish community will react to IPF? Could it be received as juxtaposing, immigrants building a front against Finns?
Developed countries, Finland included, are now exporting democracy to the “third world,” sometimes even by military force. We are now bringing it back to them, and I think that they should rejoice. The IPF will benefit Finnish society as a whole. It is good for everyone to know what the immigrants think about current topics related or even unrelated to immigration. Knowledge – especially unbiased, genuine knowledge – is always good. IPF will give a voice to immigrants. Does the society listen to it is a different story. For sure some will not like this project, but in general, I’m certain that it will be well received and appreciated.
We warmly welcome all those who want to help and participate in this project.
Go to www.ipf.fi and register to the support group.