Finland, with its baffling language and culture of reserve, is not an easy place for outsiders to penetrate.
Nura Farah, who arrived with her mother in 1993 as a teenager seeking asylum from Somalia's civil war, spent eight years being taunted at school and bearing racist abuse on the streets.
But in 2001, she became a lab technician in Helsinki, testing for mad cow disease. The work was fulfilling, her colleagues encouraging, and she moved on to bigger challenges. She took on Finnish citizenship, gave birth to a son and last year became the first Somali Finn to publish a novel.
Finland is a long way from the migrant trouble that has erupted across Europe this summer. But as a country with little history of immigration that has had to integrate an unfamiliar minority, its experience resonates.
Most E.U. countries will soon start receiving asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, the main entry points for illegal migrants. Many residents, particularly in Europe's eastern half, resent this intrusion. Yet Europe's migrant crisis has seemingly outgrown national responses.
Not since World War II has the continent faced refugee flows of such complexity and scale. Smugglers are exploiting the political vacuum in Libya to transport Africans across the Mediterranean to Italy.
Refugees from Syria's civil war clamber into rubber dinghies at Turkish ports to reach Greek islands. Then they traverse the continent by the thousands, causing havoc at borders and leaving officials to choose between haplessness and brutality. Migrants who have endured the savagery of the Islamic State or the caprice of Eritrea's police state find themselves tear-gassed by Macedonian police or evading the clutches of French security guards.
Around 270,000 migrants have reached Europe's shores illegally so far this year, more than in the whole of 2014, itself a record year. The asylum-seekers' preferences for certain parts of Europe create pinch points at borders and tensions between governments.
European Union officials in Brussels are searching for a common migration policy. Their first success, after 800 would-be migrants drowned off the Libyan coast in April, was to persuade Europe's leaders to triple Operation Triton, a border-surveillance mission that operates south of Italy. Tens of thousands of migrants have been picked up since then — 4,400 on one day, Aug. 22. After a shocking beginning to the year, the death rate has plummeted.
But migrants are adjusting their routes, many of them entering Greece via short sea hops from Turkey. In May the European Commission proposed relocating 40,000 asylum-seekers from Greece and Italy to other E.U. countries (Britain, Denmark and Ireland have opt-outs from such matters), with national quotas determined by a formula incorporating population, GDP, unemployment and previous asylum bids and resettlements. But opposition from eastern Europeans and Spain squashed the plan.
Instead, most countries have volunteered to accept a certain number of relocated asylum-seekers, amounting to 32,256 over the next two years; the E.U. hopes to reach 40,000 by the end of the year. As with the original plan, eligibility is limited to migrants arriving in Italy and Greece from mid-April who hail from countries with asylum acceptance rates in Europe of over 75 percent: for now that means Syria, Eritrea and perhaps Iraq.
Less controversially, European countries, working with the U.N. refugee agency, will resettle 22,504 people from outside Europe who already have refugee status. Most will probably be Syrians currently languishing in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
These numbers are puny next to the scale of the problem: Almost 50,000 asylum-seekers reached Greece in July alone. About 4 million Syrians have fled their homeland, not to mention the Sudanese, Somalis and others in camps in Africa who are also candidates for resettlement — or may decide to try their luck at the border. Yet by E.U. standards, this is progress: The Triton expansion and the relocation plan erode the notion that asylum-seekers are the sole responsibility of the country they reach first.
Yet many central and eastern European countries argue, plausibly, that new arrivals will simply move as soon as they are relocated, to rejoin family in Sweden or find work in Germany.
Some have more atavistic concerns. Slovakia wants Christian refugees only. Many easterners fear that outsiders will bring with them unwelcome values and habits.
Finland shows how easily short-term refugees may become long-term residents. Thanks to family-reunification rules and the magnetic pull of the diaspora, there are now more than 16,000 Somalis in Finland, up from 49 in 1990. Overwhelmed by the "Somali shock," Finnish authorities had to improvise. Reception centers and crackdowns on overt racism gave way to language classes and measures to ease Somalis into the workforce.
Today the picture is mixed. Somalis tend to appreciate Finland's peace and the freedom it affords their Muslim faith. But in 2012, 38 percent of young Somali men in Helsinki were neither in work nor education. And Finnish identity has not, by and large, found space for the Somalis. Intermarriage is rare. Ambitious Somalis move abroad.
Yet, within 10 years, according to Bruegel, an economic think tank, Europe's labor force will start shrinking. Africa, meanwhile, is growing apace. Europe could do with some sprightly immigrants to boost its tax base and pay for its growing army of pensioners.
Copyright 2013 The Economist Newspaper Limited, London. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.