Finland’s president Sauli Niinistö says migrants are threatening Western values because too many are arriving in Europe without a genuine claim for asylum
Mr Niinisto, a former lawyer, said that while a few years ago European countries regarded their values as ‘unquestionable’ they were now fighting to preserve them.
In comments reported by Yleisradio Oy, he added: ‘We must help those who are in distress or being persecuted.
‘At the moment, however, we cannot help those who are merely seeking a better life or feel that their circumstances and future are difficult in their home countries.’
Europe saw more than a million asylum seekers stream onto the continent last year, mainly by sea from Turkey, with figures indicating little sign of the flow ebbing so far this year.
Mr Niinisto said the current Geneva Conventions on which Western states base their response to refugees were outdated and had allowed too many people to claim asylum without genuine need.
He said: ‘We have to ask ourselves whether we aim to protect Europe’s values and people, and those who are truly in acute danger or inflexibly stick to the letter of our international obligations with no regard for the consequences.’
Last week the Finnish interior ministry announced that around 20,000 of the 32,000 asylum applications Finland received last year would likely be rejected and those people expelled.
Helsinki is also in diplomatic negotiations with neighbouring Russia to stop more migrants from entering Finland via the Arctic region.
It emerged earlier this week, that Finland’s centrist Prime Minister Juha Sipila had backtracked from plans to house asylum seekers at his country house for security reasons.
Sipila, a former businessman who has headed a centre-right government since May, vowed on state television in September to host refugees at his country home in Kempele, more than 500 kilometres (310 miles) north of the capital Helsinki.
After his announcement, Finland registered an unprecedented flow of mostly Iraqi migrants, totalling over 32,000 in 2015, prompting some citizens to accuse Sipila of attracting them to Finland with his offer.
But Ylitalo said Sipila’s plan to house a migrant family was changed due to the government’s ‘security assessment’.