“Right to live! No to forced returns!” Asylum seekers, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, have been camping in the centre of Helsinki since early February. They and their supporters are protesting the Finnish Immigration Service’s negative decisions on asylum applications, and what possibly follows from them: detention and removals. Nearby, another group protests with slogans such as: “Finland first, close the borders”.
It has been common to identify such protests as extreme ends of a spectrum. I disagree: civic engagement for human rights at the asylum seekers’ protest needs to be seen as at the core of a democratic society, not at its limits. Therefore to refer to those who are indifferent to Finnish asylum politics – to use the words of Finnish president Sauli Niinistö – as “tolkun ihmiset” (sensible people in English) is a misjudgement.
The anti-immigration protesters, however, can be defined as extremists. The slogans they use refer to recently established movements that are further to the right than the nationalist populist Finns party. In addition, a large poster “Ilja Janitskin for president” indicates support for a misinformation platform, Janitskin’s MV-lehti. The platform is known to disseminate lies and hostility towards asylum seekers and their supporters. This protest is one fraction of a broader anti-immigration movement that began to take shape in Finland during the early 2000s. It is part of the wider European nationalist populist landscape.