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Finland's 'Refugees of 2019' hail from Syria, Togo

One of the honourees wants to become a doctor, while the other is a pro boxer.

Vuoden 2019 pakolaismies Nourdeen Toure ja vuoden pakolaisnainen Rand Mohamad Deeb.
Nourdeen Toure (left) and Rand Mohamad Deeb. Image: Enni Kallio

NGO the Finnish Refugee Council announced on Wednesday that this year's recipients of its Refugee of The Year accolade are 18-year-old Rand Mohamad Deeb and 28-year-old Nourdeen Toure from Syria and Togo, respectively.

The council hands out the award in order to highlight role models for other newcomers to Finland. The council said that this year's recipients had both found their footing in the country in exemplary ways.

Deeb began studies in upper secondary school about five months after she arrived from Syria as a quota refugee.

She said she wants to show others that it is possible to learn the language and to study in Finland.

"I studied Finnish eight hours a day," she explained, saying that she approached the task by learning the logic of the language.

She said that she started an Arabic-language educational YouTube channel to help fellow immigrants transition to life in the country.

"It is easier to learn a new language in your mother tongue," she said.

Deeb, who's set to matriculate later this spring, said she's preparing for entrance exams to medical school, saying that helping others is important to her.

Home found in the ring

This year's other recipient, Toure, arrived to Finland as an asylum seeker about eight years ago at the age of 20. He said his two-year long journey from the West African country of Togo was a lonely one.

"My only family in the beginning was the police and the Immigration Service," he said.

But not long after that he started boxing at Helsinki's historic Töölö Sports Hall, where he said he began to make friends that made Finland begin to feel like home to him.

Toure, who boxed in his first professional match in 2014, said that exercise and hobbies have been vital tools in helping him connect with the country.

The Finnish Refugee Council said that Deeb and Toure's "courage, stubbornness and positive attitudes" were examples for other young residents with similar backgrounds to look up to.

"But they also represent hope for the future of Finnish society," the council said.

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