Norway attacks fuel Finland immigration debate

Helsinki market
Image caption Some Finns at this market said they were worried about immigration

The anti-immigration motive behind Anders Breivik's murderous rampage in Norway has highlighted the issue in Nordic countries.

In Finland, police have increased online surveillance of right-wing extremists, and legislation to tighten gun laws is being rushed through.

In a cobbled Helsinki square, a fruit and flower market is being held. Two small cafes are serving coffee and pastries and lots of people are taking the chance to relax in the afternoon sunshine.

Finns are proud of their country, with its generous welfare system and free education. They joined the EU in 1995, after decades of living in the shadow of the Soviet Union.

Swedes and Russians have long chosen to settle here, but it is asylum seekers and immigrants arriving from unfamiliar parts of the world who are causing disquiet.

Tukki Salo is having lunch with a friend. A retired English teacher, she says Finland has changed since joining the EU and that newly arrived immigrants have not integrated properly.

"We have more foreign people here. I remember in my former days we didn't have any black people here," she says.

"But nowadays there are so many, and it is a very difficult for our government - help them or send them away?"

In total, Finland's immigrant population is small, at around 4%. But Fatbahrde Hetemaj is worried. She came to Finland from Kosovo, 19 years ago.

A member of the prime minister's ruling right-of-centre National Coalition Party, she ran for parliament in this year's elections on an anti-racism platform, but failed to win a seat.

"At the moment racism is something mainly happening on the internet, it doesn't flow into every day life too much," she tells me.

"However, I do think it will evolve to manifest itself more often in real life, not just online.

"Personally, I have had a positive experience as an immigrant. But I have friends who have been shouted at in the street, especially those with dark skin."

The immigration debate became mainstream in Finland during this year's election.

Image caption Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja does not think immigration policy should change

The True Finns, a popular nationalist party, made significant gains. They campaigned mainly on an anti-EU bailout platform but a section of the party is vigorously anti-immigration.

The Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja accepts that the government does have to address popular unease about immigration, but he does not see any need for their immigration policy to change.

"There's no question of putting a stop to immigration. For Finland's economic and cultural development, for our future, immigration remains essential," he says.

But any public discussion of this sensitive issue has now been tempered, following Anders Breivik's murderous rampage in Norway.

The attacks were met with shock and disbelief in Finland.

In response the government sped up a review of the gun laws and has called for stricter EU controls on the sale of fertilizers which can be used for bomb-making.

'Growing issue'

Matias Turkkula runs the Finnish anti-immigration website He condemns Breivik's actions but denies that websites like his fuel extremism by exaggerating the problem of immigration.

"People fear there is a large risk that it [immigration] might someday become a very large issue and if that happens it's too late to do anything about it."

Image caption Sugulle Mohammed Abdirazak says he has been told jobs have gone when they are still available

However he says he will now keep a closer eye on what people are posting on the site.

The Finnish Security and Intelligence Service is housed in a discreet building in Helsinki. Its assistant director Olli Kostella also played down the threat of right-wing extremism in Finland.

"In Finland at the moment right-wing extremists don't have a political agenda… they're committing small crimes like vandalism and hooliganism," she says.

"We have close co-operation with Norway, Sweden and Denmark and unfortunately things happen in Finland three or five years after the rest of the Nordic countries, but hopefully we can say the same won't happen here as happened in Norway."

But Sugulle Mohammed Abdirazak who arrived in Finland from Somalia in 1992, faces more immediate worries.

He is training to be an interpreter from Somali to Finnish, and is grateful for the high standard of Finnish healthcare and education, but says finding work is tough.

"When you go to an interview and they see that you are an immigrant they say it's been taken, even though it's free."

Listen to Ritula Shah and Charlotte Ashton's reports from Finland on The World Tonight, on BBC Radio 4 at 22:00 BST or catch up online on the programme podcast.

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