Finland accepts EU migrant quota, still objects to "compulsion"

Reuters , Friday 11 Sep 2015

Refugees and migrants wait to pass from the northern Greek village of Idomeni to southern Macedonia, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Finland on Friday accepted its two percent share of 120,000 asylum seekers to be relocated across European Union states, but said it remained opposed to a mandatory quota system and that it planned to cut refugee benefits.

The European Commission issued the quota list earlier this week to get a grip on a record-breaking wave of refugees and migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa reaching Europe, starting with 120,000 asylum seekers now in Greece, Hungary and Italy, which have borne the brunt of the influx.

The quota system is meant to have the burden of incoming migrants shared fairly among EU countries according to their varying resources, but many smaller members object to quotas.

The migrant crisis poses a political as well as a financial challenge for Finland's newly-appointed, centre-right coalition amid rising unemployment in its recession-afflicted economy.

"We can go forward (with the EU quota) on the voluntary basis, but not by compulsion," Foreign Minister Timo Soini, whose EU-sceptic party Finns has campaigned for tighter controls of immigration, told a news conference.

"Increasing EU authority on this issue would not be good, it wouldn't work ... If we can't find solutions with international and EU cooperation, we have a million people moving across the borders without any coordination."

Interior Minister Petteri Orpo added that he believed several EU states had similar thoughts on the quota policy.

Germany, the EU's biggest and richest economy, has opened its doors to asylum seekers, saying it expects 800,000 to reach its territory alone this year, and drawn criticism from smaller neighbours for a welcoming policy they say will only spur yet more migrants to come.

The total number of asylum seekers coming to Finland is expected to rise to up to 30,000 this year, compared with just 3,600 in 2014.

The Finnish government is looking to lower asylum seekers' cash benefit, now 316 euros ($356) a month for a single adult without meals. It also aims to cut social integration benefits.

"With so many asylum seekers and the very weak situation in the economy, we will look into this. Our estimate is that it (cash benefit) can be lowered somewhat," Orpo said.

The Helsinki government is also planning to increase capital gains tax and income tax on high earners to help pay for higher immigration costs.

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