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Researcher: Underage asylum seekers opportunity, not threat

University of Tampere researcher Anna-Kaisa Kuusisto-Arponen says that instead of seeing asylum-seeking children as a threat, Finland should focus on helping them integrate into society. Last year 1,570 underage applicants were granted asylum or a residence permit.

nuori tekee läksyjä pöydän ääressä, etualalla lenkkarit.
Image: Nella Nuora / Yle

Last year 1,570 children were granted asylum or a residence permit in Finland. Social sciences researcher Anna-Kaisa Kuusisto-Arponen from the University of Tampere says the country would do well to redouble its efforts to integrate underage asylum-seekers arriving to the country alone.

Kuusisto-Arponen has studied underage asylum-seekers for years and emphasises that they are normal children and youth coming from unimaginable circumstances.

"They have arrived here for any number of reasons relating to war and conflict, and they are likely to spend years or even decades in the country," the researcher says. "Once they are granted asylum they become a part of this society and its resources. Fear-mongering is not acceptable."

Radicalisation threat null

Kuusisto-Arponen says she does not believe that children arriving in Finland pose any especial threat in terms of being recruited by radical groups.

"I don't think it's a real threat because an overwhelming majority are not involved in radical action," she says. "These children are on the contrary fleeing radicalism in their home countries."

The bigger threat, says Kuusisto-Arponen, is that Finnish society at large has a penchant for labeling underage asylum seekers as dangerous – and pushing them to the brink of desperation.

"If we can't provide these young people with the feeling that they are welcome in our society – in all senses, from self-expression and education to working life – then we are the ones creating the mechanisms for abuse and exploitation."

Sufficient start in life necessary

Nonetheless, Kuusisto-Arponen says she thinks Finland has a good chance of improving its outlook on underage asylum seekers.

"Municipalities should be bound to take in asylum-seeking children and arrange housing and education for them. The spots should also be arranged as quickly as possible, so the children do not have to find themselves trapped in reception centres."

The Finnish branch of the Save the Children charity organization is currently seeking foster homes for unaccompanied refugee children who have been granted asylum in Finland. The EU-funded project will mark the first time that underage asylum seekers are placed in private homes in Finland.

The charity is primarily seeking families who have immigrated to Finland themselves to serve as foster families. A familiar cultural setting and language would help children adjust. All interested families are nevertheless encouraged to apply.

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