Finland’s president has warned the migration crisis poses a serious threat to Western values and called for tougher rules to stop refugees entering Europe simply for a better life.
Sauli Niinistö used his parliamentary address to criticise Geneva Conventions, saying they allowed too many people to claim asylum when they weren’t genuinely in need.
‘Migration is a serious problem,’ he said at the opening of the legislature’s Spring term yesterday.
‘Europe, Finland, the Western way of thinking and our values have all been challenged by it.
Mr Niinisto, a former lawyer, said that while a few years ago European countries regarded their values as ‘unquestionable’ they were now fighting to preserve them.
In comments reported by Yleisradio Oy, he added: ‘We must help those who are in distress or being persecuted.
‘At the moment, however, we cannot help those who are merely seeking a better life or feel that their circumstances and future are difficult in their home countries.’
Europe saw more than a million asylum seekers stream onto the continent last year, mainly by sea from Turkey, with figures indicating little sign of the flow ebbing so far this year.
Mr Niinisto said the current Geneva Conventions on which Western states base their response to refugees were outdated and had allowed too many people to claim asylum.
He said: ‘It has also been suggested that the International Convention on Refugees should be amended. This would be a slow process, unlikely to solve what is an acute problem.
‘The international rules were drawn up and their interpretation evolved under quite different circumstances.
‘I feel sure that if these international regulations, and the national regulations based on them, were drawn up now, their content would be fundamentally more stringent, while still taking account of human rights and helping those in need.’
He added: ‘We have to ask ourselves whether we aim to protect Europe’s values and people, and those who are truly in acute danger or inflexibly stick to the letter of our international obligations with no regard for the consequences.’
Last week the Finnish interior ministry announced that around 20,000 of the 32,000 asylum applications Finland received last year would likely be rejected and those people expelled.
Helsinki is also in diplomatic negotiations with neighbouring Russia to stop more migrants from entering Finland via the Arctic region.
It emerged earlier this week, that Finland’s centrist Prime Minister Juha Sipila had backtracked from plans to house asylum seekers at his country house for security reasons.
Sipila, a former businessman who has headed a centre-right government since May, vowed on state television in September to host refugees at his country home in Kempele, more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) north of the capital Helsinki.
After his announcement, Finland registered an unprecedented flow of mostly Iraqi migrants, totalling over 32,000 in 2015, prompting some citizens to accuse Sipila of attracting them to Finland with his offer.
But Ylitalo said Sipila’s plan to house a migrant family was changed due to the government’s ‘security assessment.’