Finland should leave Ingrian minority in Russia: ministry

6th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Finnish interior ministry said Monday it wants within the next five years to dismantle a decades-old programme intended to help ethnic Finnish Ingrians in Russia immigrate to Finland.

"This project has come to the end of the road, as there are very few of these Finns left in Russia. Those that remain are second or third-generation," ministry spokesman Olli Koskipirtti told AFP.

Koskipirtti said that the programme was put in place in 1990 to "repay a debt of conscience" to the minority Ingrians who were trapped in the Soviet Union when Finland was forced to cede border regions to its large neighbour after World War II.

Under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Ingrian Finns faced forced migration and restrictions on Finnish language teaching and publishing, but once the Soviet Union fell apart it became possible for Helsinki to encourage them to move back to Finland.

Currently, Ingrian Finns can immigrate to Finland as long as they learn to speak Finnish and can prove that one of their parents or two of their grandparents were Finnish citizens.

Unlike immigrants from any other country, they do not have to prove they have a job, and bringing their family with them is far easier than for other nationalities, said Koskipirtti.

His ministry has now completed a proposal to end this preferential treatment by the year 2016, after a five-year transition period intended to fast-track integration of the approximately 7,000 Ingrian Finns still waiting for a place in the programme.

The Russian-based Ingrian League insisted the right of return should not be entirely revoked.

"There are still those Ingrian Finns who were sent to Siberia ... and there are still old Finns who have their Finnish documents. They should be able to move back if they chose," league chairman Aleksanteri Kirjanen told AFP.

Ingrian Finns first settled the area around Vyborg and St. Petersburg in the 18th century, retaining a strong Finnish culture and dialect, and even briefly succeeded in declaring autonomy from the Soviet Union in 1919.

The interior ministry's proposal will be presented to government and parliament in coming months.

© 2010 AFP

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