Cities and towns are at the heart of European society. We are one of the most urbanised continents on Earth, with around 75% of Europeans living in urban areas. So, in the wake of the ongoing refugee crisis, it will be European municipalities that will ultimately have to help integrate individuals into society.
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we recently launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
This week, we’re looking at Helsinki, Finland. New arrivals in Finland are being offered voluntary classes on Finnish values, including how to behave towards women. The classes are a response to concerns about a culture clash between conservative values in Muslim-majority countries, and liberal Western attitudes (especially towards sex and gender).
Curious to know more about how the refugee crisis is impacting Finland? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
We had a comment sent in by Luchian, who argued that all migrants should be required to pass a “compatibility test on European values”.
To get a response, we spoke to Anu Riila, Senior Planning Officer of the Helsinki City Executive Office, in the Economic Development, Immigration and Employment Services Division. Are “European values” classes for refugees and asylum seekers something that she would support?
I do not think so. However, European values should be taught at school and basic knowledge be given during the introductory courses to immigrants, so that immigrants have a basic understanding of what kind of society they are living in and all the positive things that have been achieved with those values, such as democracy. Similarly, we live in a global world, and Eastern values should be more extensively taught at schools as well.
In fact, values are tools that help national governments to deliver benefits that no single country could necessarily achieve on its own (say, acting against global warming). The European Union’s common basic principles for immigrant integration policy stipulate that frequent interaction between immigrants and citizens is a fundamental mechanism for integration. The practice of diverse cultures and religions is guaranteed under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and is safeguarded, unless practices conflict with other inviolable European rights or with national law.
Hence, instead of passing a compatibility test, citizens together with immigrants should enter into dialogue on values and common goals. The participation of immigrants in the democratic process and in the formulation of integration policies and measures supporting their integration at the local level. The City of Helsinki, in its Strategy Program 2013-2016, has stated in its ethical principle section that the city, in all its actions, stresses fairness, equality and openness. The city, together with its citizenry (including migrants) aims to build a stable and safe environment to live, respecting everybody’s legal rights and supporting their wellbeing and comfort. The joint citizenry respects ones’ own language and culture, as well as the cultural rights of all inhabitants. There is respect for diversity and equality, and zero-tolerance for racism. Shared forums, intercultural dialogue, and education about cultures and values all enhance interaction between immigrants and citizens, and community building as a whole.
Should refugees take mandatory “Western values” classes? Or would it be better to encourage normal interaction between asylum seekers, refugees, and locals? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!