04:13 GMT +322 July 2019
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    In this photo taken Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, Iraqi asylum seekers stand outside a refugee center located in the former army barracks, Lahti, Finland. Finland

    Made in Heaven: Finland Sees Spike in Marriages Between Iraqis, Finns

    © AP Photo / Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva
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    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)
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    The migrant crisis, which has long burdened the welfare systems of European countries, seems to be ultimately having an impact on Europe's demographics as well. Iraqis have now become the most popular foreign marriage partners for Finnish women.

    Following the migrant crisis of 2015, Iraqis have become the most popular foreign marriage partners for Finnish women, reaching a record high and effectively surpassing Turks and Britons, the Finnish newspaper Keskisuomalainen wrote. Last year, 135 Finnish women married Iraqi men, whereas 54 Finnish men married Iraqi women, an almost double year-on-year increase. This phenomenon has been at least partially ascribed to Finland's immigration policy.

    "It is natural that relationships are on the increase. Asylum seekers are relatively young and unmarried people. Besides, marriage can also be a legitimate reason for obtaining a residence permit," Sanna Rummakko, a spokeswoman for Refugee Counseling, told Keskisuomalainen.

    Some of the partnerships may have originated from volunteering, according to Elli Heikkilä, research director at the Migration Institute. At present, though, this link has not been confirmed, and existing statistics do not reflect whether alien spouses are asylum seekers.

    "When reception centers were established around the country, many volunteered to help. Romatic interactions may have occurred during the meetings," Elli Heikkilä ventured.

    Nevertheless, marriage constitutes a legal ground for applying for a right to residency in Finland. According to statistics from the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri), 83 Iraqis were granted a residence permit on the grounds that their spouse was a Finnish citizen between February 2016 and January 2017.

    According to Rummakko, the current laws basically force non-Europeans to marry Finns, provided that they want to continue their relationships.

    "The current provisions are such that a person from outside the EU may have problems obtaining a residence permit. If you want to continue living with a Finn and apply for a residence permit on these grounds, you are forced to marry in practice, Rummakko explained.

    Each year, up to 300 cases of fake marriages are revealed in Finland owing to contradictions in personal information, lack of a common language or previous contact between the spouses. According to Migri's Arja Kallakivi, it is not uncommon for foreign applicants to "marry" Finns after having received a negative decision.

    Although coming together with a Finn can arguably help an asylum seeker adapt to Finnish society, multicultural relations are known to end up in divorce.

    "It is particularly evident in couples with vast cultural differences in culture, featuring, say, Turks or Moroccans. Parents should be able to discuss their values, such as the role of religion in the family or the religion in which children are raised, as well as about women's employment and equality issues," Elli Heikkilä said.

    At present, there are more than 56,000 Finnish men and women who have foreign-born spouses or concubines, many of them Russian, Thai, Estonian or British.

    Nevertheless, the number of Finnish-Iraqi marriages remains rather small compared to the number of asylum seekers. Over the past two years, over 20,000 Iraqi refugees sought asylum in Finland.

    All in all, 38,000 asylum seekers have applied to the Finnish authorities since 2015, with about 19,000 still anticipating a decision. About 11,000 have already been denied residence permits and are pending deportation. On top of this, the Finnish authorities have lost track of another 4,000 refugees, many of which are expected to have left the country.

    Last week, illegal immigrants and refugees were reportedly dominating Finland's market for prostitution. While its exact extent remains yet to be seen, providing sexual services is reportedly an easy way out of the newcomers' financial difficulties. Earlier, similar reports came from Finland's Nordic peers Sweden and Norway.

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    Topic:
    Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe (161)

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