Early integration benefits us all
Successful integration contributes towards peaceful coexistence in communities. However, integration is a complex and longstanding process. Isn’t it then beneficial to start it as early as possible? The challenge in Finland is how to go about achieving effective early integration.
Integration can begin before arriving to Finland
Receiving a quota refugee status and arriving to Finland is a turning point in a person’s life. The oftentimes long wait at a refugee camp and in uncertainty is finally over.
Refugees arriving to Finland all have different backgrounds, ages, expectations, individual potential and skillsets. However, everyone benefits from accurate information about life in Finland to combat any misperceptions. Therefore, prior to the quota refugees’ journey to Finland they are offered a three-day Pre-Departure Orientation about their new home country aiming to ease the adjustment. The orientations are coordinated by the Finnish Immigration Service (MIGRI) and implemented by IOM in collaboration with Diaconia University of Applied Sciences. The project is funded by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).
Integration can begin before learning Finnish or Swedish
After arriving to Finland refugees – along other immigrants – who are not employed, are directed to participate in Finnish or Swedish courses.
It is crucial to learn the local language. However, many start learning Finnish as an adult and it is perhaps not the easiest language to learn. Bearing in mind that many have experienced traumatic events that may influence their learning abilities, and some have scarce educational background, it is not hard to conclude that learning Finnish – or any language – may take some time!
But is integration the same as learning the local language? How could people be introduced to the story of Finland, shared values, celebrations, habits and symbols soon after arrival?
Integration is also a psychosocial process of adapting to a new social and political reality and physical environment – the weather for one! This process challenges person’s whole worldview and identity – from ideas and beliefs to customs, routines and social status.
In addition to reason and behaviour integration also affects emotions. So, what does integration feel like?
In Finland much of the integrating efforts are task oriented and procedural. However, us human beings have a fundamental need for belonging and inclusion.
To provide a platform to raise these any many more questions, a dialogical approach would be advantageous. And to answer the questions raised, accurate information provided in native language accelerates the integration process. These principles also guide the Pre-Departure Orientations provided by IOM Finland.
Integration is a reciprocal and local process
Integration is a two-way process requiring participation and flexibility from refugees as well as their new home communities. Therefore, best results can be achieved by supporting both.
Two-way integration process is essential for the existence and development of diverse and prosperous communities. To enable this complementary process local actors need to be heard. They have a key role in empowering effective integration.
Navigating towards stable and diverse communities
Finnish Refugee Council, IOM Finland and Diaconia University of Applied Sciences have joined forces and started a three-year project called The Navigator - Toward Diversity in Finnish Municipalities. The project is funded by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The Navigator-project will be implemented in ten municipalities around the capital area of Finland called the KUUMA-municipalities.
Holistic and participatory approach
The project aims to
- build receiving communities’ capacity on integration through strengthening the professionality of the municipals decisionmakers as well as workers across sectors
- to support the quota refugees’ integration continuum from the pre-departure to civic orientation courses taught in native languages. The civic orientation course has been created by the Finnish Refugee Council.
The project has also adapted a needs-based approach. This means that the local actors and quota refugees are a central source of information to comprehend the grass-roots level. Now the immigration coordinators are being interviewed and already the local context is getting clearer – and so are the possibilities for cooperation in the entire KUUMA-region.
The KUUMA-municipalities include Hyvinkää, Järvenpää, Kirkkonummi, Kerava, Mäntsälä, Nurmijärvi, Pornainen, Sipoo, Tuusula and Vihti.
The writer is as a project specialist on integration for IOM Finland with a background in social services.
The views expressed by the authors in IOM Finland's blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the International Organization for Migration.