‘Finland’s no good:’ Disappointed migrants turn back

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Updated 26 September 2015
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‘Finland’s no good:’ Disappointed migrants turn back

TORNIO, Finland: Hundreds of predominantly Iraqi migrants who have traveled through Europe to reach Finland are turning back, saying they don’t want to stay in the sparsely-populated country on Europe’s northern frontier because it’s too cold and boring.
Migrants have in recent weeks been crossing back into Sweden at the Haparanda-Tornio border just an hour’s drive south of the Arctic Circle, and Finnish authorities have seen a rise in the number of canceled asylum applications.
“You can tell the world I hate Finland. It’s too cold, there’s no tea, no restaurants, no bars, nobody on the streets, only cars,” 22-year-old Muhammed told AFP in Tornio, as the mercury struggled to inch above 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) on a recent blustery grey day.
He had already traveled from Tornio to the capital Helsinki almost 750 kilometers (465 miles) south, and then back up to the Tornio border again to return to Sweden.
Migrants who lack proper travel documents are unable to take the ferries that run between Helsinki and Stockholm.
Another group of around 15 Iraqi refugees waiting at the bus station that Tornio shares with its Swedish twin town Haparanda also said they wanted to go back to southern Sweden. “Finland is no good,” the men echoed each other.
Sweden may be just as cold as Finland, but Sweden has bigger immigrant communities because of a longer history of integration.
On Sept. 19, several busloads of migrants made U-turns on the Swedish side when they saw hundreds of Finns form a “human barrier” on the Finnish side to protest against the sudden influx of migrants.
Anti-immigrant sentiment may be prompting some migrants to leave Finland, where the populist Finns Party is the second-biggest political party.
Early Friday, around 40 demonstrators — including one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — threw fireworks at a bus transporting asylum seekers to a new reception center in the southern city of Lahti.
Another incident took place late Thursday in Kouvola, in southeastern Finland, when a 50-year-old man threw a petrol bomb at an emergency housing facility for asylum seekers.
It is difficult to know exactly how many migrants are heading back to Sweden, since some don’t even register in Finland before leaving.
But according to the Finnish Immigration Service’s head of asylum applications, Esko Repo, “by last week around 200 applications from Iraqi asylum seekers had expired,” meaning the applicant had either withdrawn it or disappeared.
Finland has registered over 14,000 asylum seekers so far this year, and it expects a total of at least 30,000 by the end of the year — eight times as many as in 2014.
But Repo said cancelations were on the rise, and registrations were taking longer because of the recent influx of migrants.
And the 30,000 expected this year may end up dropping: media reports said some Iraqis were posting self-shot videos of Helsinki on a Facebook page popular among Iraqi migrants to dissuade others from coming.
Around 500 migrants are arriving in Tornio each day, an influx that has stunned the tranquil town of 20,000 inhabitants and put its infrastructure to the test, even though most migrants are just passing through.
“The flow from the border has been out of control. I have been scared and have avoided going shopping in the evenings because we don’t know who these people are,” a 66-year-old pensioner who gave her name as Kirsti, told AFP.
Up to 1,000 migrants are estimated to be in Tornio on a given day, according to police and migration officials.
Some local business owners have accused “the dark men” or “these southerners” of pilferage and harassing women, but others said the crowds hadn’t caused any trouble.
“I haven’t seen any disturbances, but I don’t know why they come here when even our own people leave this town,” Matti Alaviuhkola said at his shoe repair shop on the main street.
On Tuesday, Finnish authorities opened a registration center in Tornio, requiring migrants to register upon arrival before being sent to reception centers around the country.
The Finnish government sent dozens of police, border guards, customs and military to step up alien controls at the border, where locals have crossed freely between Sweden and Finland since the 1960s.
Busloads of migrants arriving from Sweden were driven directly to the new registration center, as canine police units and military guards stood nearby to ensure that no one wandered off.
Finnish authorities have expressed concern about finding housing for all the refugees if the influx continues, despite new facilities opening every week.
Some locals said the influx was putting too much strain on the country in the middle of its own economic woes.
“We should close the border and check who these people are. Iraqis should be sent straight back since their country is not at war,” a metal worker and one of the organizers of the border protest, Eero Yrjanheikki, told AFP.


Potential privacy lapse found in Americans’ 2010 census data

This March 23, 2018, file photo shows an envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. (AP)
Updated 43 min 17 sec ago
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Potential privacy lapse found in Americans’ 2010 census data

  • The 8 billion pieces of statistics in census data are supposed to jumbled in a way so what is released publicly for research cannot identify individuals for more than seven decades

WASHINGTON: An internal team at the Census Bureau found that basic personal information collected from more than 100 million Americans during the 2010 head count could be reconstructed from obscured data, but with lots of mistakes, a top agency official disclosed Saturday.
The age, gender, location, race and ethnicity for 138 million people were potentially vulnerable. So far, however, only internal hacking teams have discovered such details at possible risk, and no outside groups are known to have grabbed data intended to remain private for 72 years, chief scientist John Abowd told a scientific conference.
The Census Bureau is now scrapping its old data shielding technique for a state-of-the-art method that Abowd claimed is far better than Google’s or Apple’s.
Some former agency chiefs fear the potential privacy problem will add to the worries that people will avoid answering or lie on the once-every-10-year survey because of the Trump administration’s attempt to add a much-debated citizenship question.
The Supreme Court on Friday announced that it would rule on that proposed question, which has been criticized for being political and not properly tested in the field. The census count is hugely important, helping with the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives and distribution of billions of dollars in federal money.
The 8 billion pieces of statistics in census data are supposed to jumbled in a way so what is released publicly for research cannot identify individuals for more than seven decades. In 2010, the Census Bureau did this by swapping similar household information from one city to another, according to Duke University statistics professor Jerome Reiter.
In the internal tests, Abowd said, officials were able to match of 45 percent of the people who answered the 2010 census with information from public and commercial data sets such as Facebook. But errors in this technique meant that only data for 52 million people would be completely correct — little more than 1-in-6 of the US population.
He said the 2010 census used the best possible privacy protection available, but hackers since then have become more skilled in reconstructing data. To counter their growing abilities, the agency has completely changed the system for 2020 and will offer the “gold standard” of privacy regardless of the fate of the citizenship question, Abowd said.
People “want to know that statistical tables aren’t going to come back and haunt them,” Abowd said at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. “I promise the American people they will have the privacy that they deserve.”
Georgetown University provost Robert Groves, who headed the 2010 census, said the count had the proper privacy and that every census improves. He lauded the new steps.
Former agency chief Kenneth Prewitt, a professor of policy at Columbia University, said the basic information such as age and ethnicity, even if publicly revealed, isn’t as big a deal as other data breaches.
“There is a widespread privacy anxiety out there that is very much related to Facebook and Google and so forth,” Prewitt said. “I’m much more worried about the fact that my iPhone follows me around every day.”
In a statement, Apple’s Fred Sainz took issue with such privacy concerns: “The iPhone doesn’t follow you around all day long — Apple has no idea where you are nor do we care. And Apple does not sell information to companies.” He noted, however, that consumers can choose apps that know their location.
Abowd said “the 2020 census will be the safest and best protected ever. And this is not as easy as it sounds.”
The new system involves complex mathematical algorithms that inject “noise” into the data, making it harder to get accurate information and providing “a very strong guarantee” of privacy, said Duke University computer sciences professor Ashwin Machanavajjhala.
This increases privacy while lowering the accuracy for researchers who use the statistics. Think of it as one set of knobs being dialed up while a second is dialed down at the same time.
The decision on the official privacy/accuracy setting for 2020 hasn’t been set. Abowd said policy officials, not engineers or scientists, will make that call.
The Census Bureau tried this system in a 2018 survey using an ultra-strict privacy setting that, while not directly comparable to Google or Apple, is hundreds if not thousands of times more secure for privacy than what’s now being used on data from searches using Google Chrome or Apple’s iPhone, Duke’s Reiter said.
Prewitt suggested the public might not understand the extra efforts underway for the 2020 count but would be spooked by the disclosure about the privacy vulnerability, making people more reluctant to comply with the next census.
If the administration succeeds in adding the citizenship question, “there will be a huge evasion of it (the census) and some selective misuse of it,” Prewitt said.
Whether some avoid the survey because of it or lie, neither is a good outcome, making the data less usable, Prewitt said.
Groves said technical experts have serious problems with the citizenship question because it hasn’t been tested in the field, as all census questions usually are. He compared it to putting a new drug on the market before the necessary testing.
“Very subtle wording and positional changes in a thing like the Census can have enormous impact way beyond what we as humans can predict,” Groves said