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THL: Loneliness rising among foreign-born population

Over a third of foreigners in Finland experience discrimination, suggests a poll by the health and welfare institute.

Maahanmuuttajanuoria Itäkeskuksen kauppakeskuksessa.
More than 6,800 people from 120 countries took part in the study (file photo). Image: Milla Vahtila / Yle

The most extensive survey ever of Finland's foreign-born population indicates that many immigrants experience loneliness and discrimination. The study, published by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Tuesday, reflects the views of some 6,800 residents from around 120 countries.

Four out of 10 foreign-born men in Finland and nearly as many women say they have experienced discrimination within the past year, according to the research.

Loneliness is also more common among those born abroad than the general population, notes THL Research Manager Hannamaria Kuusio.

"Compared to the 2014 study, feelings of loneliness have actually increased," she tells Yle.

The FinMonik survey gathers data about the wellbeing and health, working ability and functional capacity, service use and experiences of Finland's foreign population. It covers people who were born abroad and whose both parents were born abroad.

More than 13,000 such individuals were randomly selected for the survey. Of these 6,836, or about half, responded. The respondents included speakers of nearly 200 native languages and about 120 nationalities. Information about the study was provided in 18 languages.

Partly funded by the EU and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, the project began in early 2018 and wraps up next summer.

North Africans, Middle Easterners face more problems

According to the study, those who moved here from the Middle East and North Africa appeared to have a higher concentration of problems related to health and wellbeing, including loneliness or depression. Immigrants from these areas also rated their quality of life as lower than the average for the population at large.

Kuusio says that one reason for this may be that those who arrive in Finland from these regions are more likely to arrive as refugees. Many of them have lived in refugee camps and experienced difficult journeys here from their home countries.

Many of the respondents considered access to health services to be insufficient. Well below half said that arranging a doctor's appointment is a smooth process. The research does not probe the reasons for this, but Kuusio suspects that this may largely due to a lack of knowledge.

"Particularly in the early stages after arrival in the country, it is important that information on services in Finland be available in one's own native language," Kuusio says.

Fewer doctor's visits, less alcohol

On the whole, foreign-born respondents reported using health services at a slightly lower rate than the general population. Those reporting the fewest numbers of visits to doctors were from Asia, Estonia, Russia and the former Soviet Union.

"Many foreign-born people prefer to visit public health centres than private or workplace healthcare, even if they have jobs," says Kuusio.

Kuusio points to positive findings in the results, too. For instance they suggest that foreign-born people consume less alcohol and report fewer long-term illnesses than the overall population.

"Most say they have friends and keep in touch with their loved ones. Many also said that they get help when they need it," Kuusio says.

On the other hand, the poll indicates that foreign-born women are less likely to exercise in their free time while men are more likely to smoke than the broader population.

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