History Blog 4: The focus turns to Finland
Hans Petter Bøe, who became Regional Representative in 2009, says that quite a lot changed when an organization-wide restructuring of IOM took place in 2011. This meant that IOM Finland became a Country Mission with Resource Mobilization Functions, and was now part of a larger region, that covers the European Economic Area.
“After that we continued to oversee project implementation and donor relations in Finland and Sweden and to provide administrative support our offices in Estonia and Denmark,” says Simo Kohonen, the present Chief of Mission.
He says that the change led to a greater emphasis on operations in Finland. One of the projects that grew in importance was the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR). This was done with a comprehensive approach and with funding from the EU.
AVRR Programme Officer Tobias van Treeck says that the reintregration support was gradually built into the system. Nowadays reintegration support is an integral part of AVRR programmes, giving the beneficiaries help to restart their lives.
In 2015, the EU-funded AVRR project ended, and following legislative changes, the Finnish Immigration Services (Migri) took over the management of the programme. The focus now is on those, whose asylum applications have been rejected or who have withdrawn their applications. A few cases a year are outside of these groups and are for instance paid for by municipalities.
There were also several other EU-funded projects in the beginning of the 2010s, particularly in the field of integration. IOM Finland was focusing on non-discrimination, migrant youth, and a multifaith approach.
“In the IAMA multifaith project we trained migrant religious leaders together with the offices in Denmark, Germany and Latvia. We travelled around Finland and visited cellar mosques and churches. Sometimes we were very positively received, sometimes we were seen as representatives of the authorities and people refused to talk to us unless we promised that they could build a real mosque”, recalls van Treeck.
The focus of the counter-trafficking work changed from supporting the Baltic states to Finland-based activities. Since 2011, IOM Finland has done several information campaigns on counter-trafficking that have been well-received, “What is the Price of a Human Being” being the latest one in 2016. Otherwise, the work has focused on awareness-raising among groups as diverse as embassy personnel, ferry workers and social and health care workers.
These were also the years when the MIDA FINNSOM project in Somalia went from the pilot stage to a real project. The recruitment of Somali diaspora health professionals trained in Finland or other Western countries gained speed. There were excellent results, like the expansion of the work of the neo-natal unit in Hargeisa that lead to a drop in neo-natal deaths in the region.
And then came 2015.
The year when the migration flows into Europe multiplied and even in the far north in Finland the number of asylum seekers went drastically up to 32,000, almost ten times more than the year before.
“The immediate thing that we noticed in the office was the media attention. Before that we struggled to get any migration related story out in the media, and then suddenly we went to the other extreme: migration was the main news item and headline”, Simo Kohonen tells.
Jaana Sipilä concurs: “The phones were ringing off the hook. Actors from very different backgrounds, who had never even known that IOM existed in Finland, contacted us.”
For the AVRR project, it meant a big increase in returnees, from 318 in 2014 to 635 in 2015 and 2,116 in 2016.
“In the first wave there were many who withdrew their applications themselves. Now a majority are those who have received negative asylum decisions”, Kohonen says.
In the counter-trafficking work the number of victims of trafficking with an asylum seeker background has grown.
“We warned about exploitation faced by migrants on the way to Europe to urge countries to meet the needs of the most vulnerable. Today's number of victims of trafficking assisted in Finland show that the exploitation has come true to so many”, Sipilä says.
The writer is IOM Finland's Communications and Liaison Specialist.
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.