Sirpa Kähkönen

Sirpa Kähkönen

What does the term refugee mean to you?

A refugee is a person who had to leave his homeland against his will.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

It is as legitimate to flee from poverty as it is to flee from war or political persecution. People have the right to search for their livelihood and a decent human existence as well as education and work outside of their home country.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Migration due to ecological crises and problems is legitimate. One cannot expect anyone to continue living in areas where life has become impossible due to a natural disaster or pollution.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

A person is no longer a refugee if he either takes on the citizenship of the new country or makes the decision to settle down in a new country.

Is there a natural right to asylum?


If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

The process of granting asylum should be flexible and fast. If one researches the background of a person, one could use a similar method as applied by the Icorn organization when they mediate asylum for persecuted writers.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

In a normal situation, in a limited manner, but generously. In case of war or a catastrophe, one should accept refugees without limitations. At the same time, one should try and quickly solve or mitigate the conflict or catastrophe which is the cause for migration.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

The critical point is the resilience of the country accepting refugees. Unfortunately, very poor countries sometimes have to accept large waves of refugees; many of the more affluent countries should be able to take care of a larger number of refugees.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

In the past, Finland has been open to accepting refugees who were willing to quickly start working and to externally adapt to cultural requirements, meaning to keep a low visibility in regard to their own cultural characteristics and to practice their own religion and customs within the confinement of their own four walls. A good example are the so-called boat people from Vietnam. Probably, one would prefer to accept refugees from  European countries.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

No. Especially the increased numbers of refugees in 2015 have surprised the Finnish people and have caused many problems as far as the will for integration and the mood in the country are concerned. Refugees in Finland rarely end up on the street; we are able to accommodate them, but people don’t want anything to do with them. Especially problematic was the deportation of refugees in the summer of 2016, to countries in which the danger of being persecuted or killed is especially high.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

This is a very difficult question. In accordance with Christian tradition, we should share our abundance with others. But when we implement cuts in the social sector, this would mean that Finns with low income would receive less support. There are poor people in rich countries, too. An increase in poverty in Finland cannot be considered as a successful refugee policy. But not to help the refugees is not an alternative either.

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

The desire to share the life of the country accepting the refugees and to get to know its culture. The willingness to accept and respect the country’s central values.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

The willingness and ability to accept the background and culture of those who have been taken in. The capability to conduct a dialog while, on the one hand, presenting the principles that must be maintained, and on the other hand, the willingness to be flexible in regard to all other questions which are not central or absolutely vital.

Do you know any refugees personally?


Do you actively support any refugees?


How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

Negative scenario: more closed borders, more and more people will be sent back to their countries of origin, people evoking fears, populism. Positive scenario: one will still find goodwill and the ability to adapt to new conditions, political vision to solve the problems of the refugees on the European level. Much depends on the development of the situation in Syria and Turkey.

b) over the next two decades?

Hope lies with the younger generations who have grown up in a multicultural Finland. Their opinions concerning the migration of people whose culture is very different from our own might possibly become more positive.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

I can imagine this but that is part of my utopian structure of thought about a world in which there is no war, no environmental destruction and pollution, no hatred or oppression. Maybe it’s only a dream but giving up that dream would mean admitting that being human only means battling against the environment and other human beings.

If yes: what does it take?

I have already given my answer to this question. The most important thing would be to stop war and violence.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?

There were a few persons in my family who fled to the Soviet Union and then perished in the wake of Stalin’s persecutions.

Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

I consider it to be possible because the world is an unstable place, and no one is able to foresee the entire course of their lives.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I read, write and think in order to keep ready an invisible suitcase in the event that I would have to leave. I am building an identity for this moment which cannot be taken away from me if I have to flee or if I am taken prisoner.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

To a country that would accept me.

How much “home” do you need?*

My memories are my home.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.