Sign up for our newsletter ⟩
News |

Finland's 'Refugees of the year' call for better integration, more equality

The Finnish Refugee Council began selecting a 'Female Refugee of the Year' in 1998 and a 'Male Refugee of the Year' in 2016.

Sara Al Husaini ja Ahmed Mesaedy.
Espoo student Sara Al Husaini and Tampere-based Ahmed Mesaedy have been selected as Finland's 'Refugees of the Year' for 2021 by the Finnish Refugee Council. Image: Julius Töyrylä

Sara Al Husaini, a student from Espoo, and Ahmed Mesaedy from Tampere have been chosen as Finland's 'Refugees of the Year' by the Finnish Refugee Council, a humanitarian NGO that protects the rights of people affected by displacement.

Both Al Husaini and Mesaedy originally come from Iraq, but arrived into Finland in very different life situations as well as in different centuries.

The council has selected a 'Female Refugee of the Year' since 1998, and a 'Male Refugee of the Year' since 2016.

Refugee children play important role within families

Sara Al Husaini was less than a month old when she first arrived in Finland with her family as a quota refugee in 1992. She was born in a displacement camp in Saudi Arabia, after her family had been forced to flee Iraq because of her father's political opinions.

Al Husaini spent her childhood in Kuopio, where she says she felt there was little difference between her and the other children. However, when her 'Finnishness' was later questioned, this had an effect on her identity and mental well-being.

Story continues after the photo.

Sara Al Husaini.
Sara Al Husaini has studied at the Universities of Malmö and Oulu, as well as serving on the Student Council. She spent this past spring working with the European Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education in Brussels. Image: Julius Töyrylä
Al Husaini says that she now wants to highlight issues related to children and young people with a refugee background. In particular, she wants to talk about the important roles that children often play within refugee families.

"Children with a refugee background grow up and learn in a new environment, so they often also have to support their parents in integration - for example, to act as an interpreter in various situations, such as at parent evenings in schools," she says.

In addition to the status of children and young people, Al Husaini also intends to raise awareness of the issues facing facing women formerly of the Muslim faith in Finland, especially with regard to equality and having their voices heard in society.

Making an impact through law change

Ahmed Mesaedy arrived in Finland as an asylum seeker in 2015, after fleeing persecution and the unstable social situation in Iraq.

Mesaedy, who worked as a lawyer in his home country, travelled across Europe for over three weeks until he ended up at emergency accommodation in the district of Hervanta, Tampere. He lived in a number of different reception centres across Finland before settling back in Tampere to begin studying.

A couple of years after coming to Finland, Mesaedy went as a customer to a guidance and counselling centre for immigrants. He then became an intern at the centre, and later an employee, advising and supporting his peers.

Story continues after the photo.

Ahmed Mesaedy.
Ahmed Mesaedy will soon be graduating as a sociologist and wants to promote equality within Finnish society. Image: Julius Töyrylä
In addition to this, Mesaedy has attended specialised 'expert by experience' training organised by Tampere University of Applied Sciences, which has led to him helping to develop services offered by the City of Tampere.

"It is especially important to develop integration into a case by case process that takes into account the person's situation and, for example, their study background and future dreams," Mesaedy explains, adding that he also wants to highlight disadvantages within working life.

His goal is to study for an MA in Legal Affairs and thereby influence matters through the law.

"For my part, I want to contribute towards ensuring that all people have 100 percent equal opportunities in the world of work and study, and as members of society," he says.

Latest in: News


Our picks