AT some stage in the near future, Scotland will have to confront the issue of immigration.
No matter when the future independence referendum happens, England and presumably Wales and Northern Ireland will be either out of, or on the way out of, the European Union, so how will that affect immigration to Scotland?
It is undeniable that, generally speaking, Scotland has a different view on immigration from England in particular. The main cause of the Brexit vote down south was “taking control” with immigration consistently shown to be the major concern for those who voted Leave.
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Can Scotland learn from other small countries on how to handle immigration? The experience of Finland is instructive, not least because the Finnish government acknowledges that the country requires immigration “in order to offset its ageing population” as is the case in Scotland, but their experience comes with a large cautionary warning due to recent events.
Committed to protecting immigrants and accepting multiculturalism as a norm, the Finnish government has an immigration strategy, something Scotland will require.
It states: “The Strategy views migration as an opportunity: mobility creates international networks and brings with it new ways of doing things.
“Migration will help to answer Finland’s dependency ratio problem, but at the same time, competition for workers between countries will increase.
“To succeed in this competition, Finland must be able to effectively attract skilled workers who will stay in the country for the longer term. As a responsible member of the international community, Finland is committed to providing international protection to those who need it.”
Finland, like Scotland, offered help for the refugee crisis and has taken in more than 40,000 refugees from Syrian, Iraq and Afghanistan in the past three years.
This strongly liberal nation with its national commitment to social welfare had acted before to give succour – around 20 years ago, it took in a large number of Somalians. In 2015 alone, it took in 32,476 refugees, compared to 20,000 let in to the UK by the Westminster Government.
Nevertheless, immigrating to Finland is not easy, largely because the Finnish language is difficult to learn though much of the population has English as a second language. Finland is also very strict on asylum seekers, and has sent back home those who failed the process as well as paying for some to return home on a voluntary basis.
The Finnish people have also been concerned by an economy which stagnated after the 2008 financial crisis, its vital forestry and electronics industries taking a crashing fall before the nation’s economy turned around last year and is now heading for serious growth again.
Perhaps that concern more than anything caused the population to think again about immigration, though a couple of high-profile rape cases involving the sons of Somali refugees and an Afghan asylum seeker helped fuel resentment against immigrants, something which has increased exponentially in recent months.
Nevertheless, this week’s forced removal of failed asylum seekers is something which is deeply troubling Finnish society.
On Monday, more than 200 people took part in an impromptu demonstration at Helsinki Airport where a midnight flight took people back to Afghanistan. Helsinki police had to issue a statement denying that pregnant women and children were among the deportees, and Eva Biaudet, the former ombudsman for minorities, promptly demanded that the removals be suspended.
She said: “Finland is about to forcibly return asylum seekers to Kabul, despite the fact Afghanistan is not safe according to information provided by the UN. In Germany, for example, five states suspended removals to Afghanistan after the security situation deteriorated.”
It is a mess, clearly, so this is perhaps one issue where Scotland needs not to exactly follow the example of a similar small country, but anticipate future problems and deal with them beforehand.