Rajat Kiinni (Close the Borders) demonstrators at the Citizens’ Square in Helsinki. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The majority of respondents in an opinion survey, conducted by the University of Vaasa and commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior, feel that asylum seekers are a threat to internal security. The respondents are, for example, concerned about conflicts between different population groups.

Most also feel that the authorities should deport those refugees who reside in the country illegally. The respondents to the citizens’ survey were critical of the right of churches, ideological non-profits, or individual citizens to protect those in the country illegally.

At the same time, the respondents stated that they wanted to help those who really need it: the respondents wanted to invest a great deal more in development aid, crisis management and the quota refugee system. The respondents also wanted to reduce the duration of the asylum process and improve the employment of those who had received residence permits.

The answers also highlighted the need for direct communication by the authorities. At present, not all official information is readily available or people do not know how to utilize it. The respondents also felt that the media’s perceived bias and the polarization of public debate were problematic. Extreme opinions in one direction or the other have received a great deal more visibility than their relative share of the population would indicate.

[alert type=blue ]The respondents also wanted to reduce the duration of the asylum process and improve the employment of those who had received residence permits.[/alert]

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The survey reveals that Finns would like to be able to discuss asylum policy without the fear of being stigmatized; the discourse should be relevant and fact-based. The topics that were highlighted in the discourse on asylum policy were social polarization, promotion of integration activities during the asylum-seeking process and the impact of the asylum seeker situation on security.

The majority of the ideas established during the discussion events applied to preliminary integration, for example in the time spent by asylum seekers at reception centers. According to the respondents, this time should be spent in a meaningful way in activities such as language studies and improvement of working life skills as well as learning about daily life in Finnish society. The respondents felt that this would make it faster and easier for people to adapt to Finnish society and reduce frustration among asylum seekers during the asylum process.

The purpose of the opinion survey was to compile as comprehensive an image of Finns’ views, experiences and opinions on the asylum seeker situation as possible as well as generate ideas for developing activities in the future.

An electronic survey, as well as discussion events held in five locations, formed the basis for this qualitative and quantitative research. A total of 1,047 Finns (51 percent women and 49 percent men in the age of 16-70) responded to the survey.