As part of the study visit of the Invisible Inhabitants project, we visited Helsinki in early September 2023. We checked how public institutions and non-governmental organizations deal with accepting new residents and helping them integrate with the host community. Even though Finland may seem like a distant country in terms of social life, we found many similarities and inspirations.
Helsinki is a city with exceptionally diverse nationalities and it is undoubtedly a challenge to create an integration system for all residents.
To learn more, we visited the following institutions and organizations:
- The Deaconess Foundation
- Al Amal - Living Room
- House of Helsinki -International House Helsinki
- Oodi Library
We also met with representatives of the Belarusian diaspora and the Association of Ukrainians in Finland.
The Deaconess Foundation
It is a huge organization with a rich and long history of activity. They currently run about 70 projects, including Al Amal and Living Room.
Al Amal (english: hope)
This is a place that deals with undocumented migrants. For various reasons, e.g. negligence of parents who did not produce the documents. Obtaining a document confirming the legality of stay in Finland, especially for people from Azerbaijan, Iraq and Iran, is extremely difficult.
The procedure can take years and requires many attempts. Al Amal provides legal assistance in the native languages of migrants and volunteers or employees go through the entire process together with the person applying for the status. In addition, Al Amal is a safe meeting place, located in a district outside the center, which is multicultural and brings together nationalities in need of legal assistance due to their origin
The living room provides help with homework, shared meals, conversations, and a safe open space for meetings. All these activities spontaneously lead to the creation of a supportive and integrated community. An inspiring example for us is the Living Room project, under which the organization connects Finnish families who are ready to help young migrants adapt on a voluntary basis (regular meetings, conversations, sometimes help in making life decisions, joint holidays, spending free time together).
House of Helsinki
A young organization established in 2019. We talked to the coordinators of the REFUFIN project, which focuses its activities on refugees from Ukraine. They coordinated transport on the Polish-Ukrainian and Finnish borders for people who wanted to go to Finland. Projects that can be obtained from Finland usually last three years.
International House Helsinki
The place is accessible to people with disabilities. Employees speak English without any problems. The documents contain instructions for completing them in English. They are publicly available. There are also guides available in many languages on how to start life in Finland, how to enroll your child in school and what education in Finland is like, as well as a welcome booklet in several languages. (After asking if it was in Polish, the employee started apologizing that they didn't have one yet). The atmosphere was extremely friendly, we did not experience any nervous situations.
One of the iconic places in Helsinki. It gave us a lot of inspiration for our center, Baobab. Extremely comfortable and accessible solutions in a large space. a safe place, open to everyone, free access.
Belarusian Diaspora in Finland
We also met with representatives of the Belarusian Diaspora in Finland to talk about the Belarusian community in Helsinki. The Belarusian community organizes regular meetings and various cultural events aimed at preserving the Belarusian language and culture. After the protests in Belarus, the media and some NGOs (including Amnesty International) contacted and showed interest and the authorities talked about support, but after the start of the war the situation changed, at this point the Belarusian community has almost no contacts with the authorities or Finnish organizations and no support from their sides.
CONCLUSIONS AND SUMMARY
The visit confirmed our belief that there is a problem with the employment of foreigners in Finland and the integration program (including learning the Finnish language and culture) is not fully effective. Such a program lasts a year and can cause a lot of pressure on people using it. The new education program is also demanding and at times unforgiving. Hence the need for help from non-governmental organizations.
In general, we notice that the availability of services in an accessible form is at a drastically higher level than in Lublin. When checking the websites of institutions and organizations, the option of translation into several languages immediately appears. Each page must have a translation in English. We had no problem communicating with representatives of the institution/organization. This ensures the fulfillment of a basic need - safe, comfortable communication. This is also facilitated by: transparency of information, publicly available materials, guides and documents in several languages.