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Young foreigners helping refugees integrate

Young foreign-born volunteers are helping refugees adapt to Finnish culture. Youths from Spain, Turkey and Italy are helping younger refugees with things like accessing health care and other common errands and activities. They also learn by having fun.

Iranista kotoisin oleva Fereshte Khodadadi ja espanjalainen vapaaehtoistyöntekijä Elena Infante.
Volunteer Elena Infante from Spain (right) and 15-year old Feresthe Khodadadi, a refugee from Iran. Image: Kati Rantala / Yle

Elena Infante from Spain started helping out refugees as a support facilitator this spring. The activities she and the refugees participate in include English language education and learning about the environment.

"Refugees don’t necessarily speak a word of English, Finnish or Spanish," Infante said. "So we teach English using images. It is quite a big challenge."

Fifteen year old Iranian Feresthe Khodadadi, who has Afghan roots, came to Finland as a refugee less than a year ago. Thanks to Infante’s help, Fereshte is already familiar with Finnish culture, common activities and school.

"Elena taught me to speak English, we’ve gone to museums and the amusement park, for example," Fereshte said. "We talk, we're friends."


Multiculturalism the right medicine

For the past six years, the west-coast city of Pori has seen a total of 20 Afghan and Pakistani refugees arrive.

The organisation NuoriPori 2100 (Young Pori 2100) helps the refugee children and young people to familiarise themselves with the Finnish way of life, through different activities and club activities, Infante said.

"I also arrange meetings and events, and oversee extracurricular activities where refugee children and Finnish children can meet and connect with each other," she said, adding that fun activities like puppet shows and arts and crafts are generally the facilitators for interaction.

"In my opinion, ours is one of the best ways for refugees to integrate," Infante said.

Refugees in Pori have settled in well, according to Aki Nummelin, NuoriPori 2100’s executive director.

"Our first refugees started arriving here in 2001; they’ve adapted well and most of them have jobs," Nummelin said. "Refugees from Myanmar in particular are hard-working and humble, so they were a perfect fit for Finnish culture from the start."

Nummelin said Pori natives have also responded well to the influx of refugees over the years and said he had not heard of incidents of discrimination.

"When refugees learn the Finnish language, come here to school, then they will definitely be just the same as any other citizens of Finland," Nummelin said.

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