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Hate crime sends a strong message

In hate crime, hatespeech, internet, News, police, racism by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

“Hate crime hurts the victim more than other forms of crime, as it hits against the very core of the person’s sense of self and identity.”

So describes hate crime professor Jon Garland, head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Surrey. Researcher Jon Garland focuses on hate crime from the victim’s perspective. Professor Garland says hate crime is committed to make a clear difference between “us” and those that are “different”. The victims are chosen because of their identity in the eyes of the perpetrator.

Usually the group that represents difference from the perpetrators point of view is already marginalized in the society. Hate crime aims to maintain the cultural status or benefits that the perpetrator represents, says professor Garland.

Hate crime can also be done to send a message: you and others like you are not welcome here.

Who are the perpetrators?

Professor Jon Garland says that hate crime shakes the victim’s fundamental sense of safety and even destroys it for a period of time.

Researcher Jon Garland emphasizes that even if we commonly think that the perpetrators of hate crime are usually an organized group, actually they can be anyone. At the monet Garland is worried about the crime targeting migrants across Europe. He says one of the reasons for the increase in this type of crime is the rise of populist parties, which have brought racism from the marginal to the mainstream.

On the other hand on EU-level action has been taken to tackle hate crime and hate speech. The commission has set a European Union High Level Group on combating racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and to look into hate crime punishments across EU.

Who are the victims?

Victims of hate crime often have a history of being marginalized based on their ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. There are also victim groups officially recognized by the law. For example in Finland hate crime gives grounds for a harsher punishment.

Hate crime definition is how ever not simple. Law does not unambiguously recognize all groups, for example victims of hate crime can be also sex workers or homeless, elderly or members of a sub culture. Should these groups be listed as hate crime victims so that crimes targeted towards them can be subjected to harder punishments?

For example in England The Sophie Lancaster Foundation is campaigning successfully to get Goth sub culture listed as vulnerable group to hate crime. Young Goth Sophie Lancaster died after an assault in 2007. As attackers responsible for her death received their punishment, the judge labeled the crime as hate crime. Victim had been singled out because of her appearance.

London tackles hate crime

Of all crime in UK and Wales, a quarter happen in London. In a multicultural metropolis cultural clashes are bound to happen. But hate crime goes massively unreported, says Programme Manager Natasha Plummer from London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

”40 percent of hate crime happen without reporting”, says Natasha Plummer. “That means that we have thousands of hate crimes in this city that go without report to the police. And even if the victim begins the justice process, they often don’t complete it. We have to think of ways to support the victim better, so that they can commit to the often long justice and court process.”

The fastest growing type of crime in UK is online crime. Also hate crime happens over the internet. The police however in many European countries is powerless, as the amount of postings and messages is too big to thoroughly cover.

Use your mobile to report hate crime

Programme Manager James Tate from London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime tells that in London easier ways to report hate crime have been developed. The reasons why hate crime goes in so many cases unreported are many, James Tate describes. Most commonly the victim does not trust the police. They think the report does not lead to anything actually happening.

At the Mayor’s Office this was seen as a serious problem. Result was an app, where hate crime can be reported immediately, as soon as it happens or as soon as the victims feels safe to do so.

“The app is free and widely available”, James Tate describes it. “You can report to the police, record a statement, record evidence and contact victim support”, James Tate explains.

As the app reports hate crime to the police, the gps of the mobile lets police know where the crime happened and a unit can be immediately sent if needed. So far the app has been quite widely downloaded, but used just to report 200 cases in its first year. Of the hate crime actually happening, that is just a fraction.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson




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Not your average cop

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

”Patrol car 312, direction Kontula, departing now.”

Senior constable Susanna Mara calls the police information center trough radio. The patrol car is just driving out from Malmi police department’s parking hall. Patrol consisting of three senior constables, is just taking the streets, as part of their 12 hour shift of Friday night. There is a rough plan for the evening, some targets in Eastern part of Helsinki, where they plan to go for check outs. They don’t intend to take assignments for urgent accidents, but instead want to see who is out tonight, speak with youth they meet and intervene in case of any incidents.

Senior constables Susanna Mara, Niklas Kråknäs and Kristian Paavilainen are part of the crime prevention team of the Helsinki Police department. Kristian and Susanna are also present in the social media. Susanna has been working in the prevention team for two years and is already so well known among the youth that she is regularly stopped on the street, even when not working. “You are not like those other cops”, is a sentence one hears often about her. Her colleagues find it amazing, how well she know the youth in her area, down to their nicknames, boyfriends and girlfriends, including exes.

Mara aims not only to talk and offer advice, but also to listen the youth. With some youngsters, she talks several times a week, face to face or online. After gaining the trust, the youth can provide the police with invaluable information concerning the safety of the area and possible crime. Part of the job is handling crime done by under 15 year olds.

Friday night is turning dark. In the beginning the patrol car drives to meet a young man, who has contacted Susanna directly, telling he wants to exchange a few words. Susanna steps aside to talk with him. Prevention team does not work like a regular police patrol, explains constable Niklas Kråknäs.

“Compared with the regular patrolling, they don’t have the time to ask how everyone is feeling today”, he says. “It’s more like who did what, writing tickets or locking the bad persons up. Then it’s off to take on another case. We have time and the tools to take broader look into the situation.”

Police car is parked outside a youth center Kallahti. There are a lot of young boys and girls playing basketball together. The mood is happy, everyone is eager to greet the police they know, asking them to join the game.

The crime prevention team gathers a lot of information from youth centers in the area, from schools and NGOs. It is important that the co-operation is open and works.

“For the youth, it is important to show you are available. Only then they will contact you in case there is a problem”, says Susanna Mara. She goes around the basketball court greeting everyone.

It is a relatively cold Friday night, but lots of people are hanging out around the Kontula shopping center and metro station. Youth, children, drunken people, aggressive behavior, people partying or those who just wander the streets aimlessly, all are mix in the plaza. Outside the liquor store, a man has lost his temper, after being denied access to the shop. After seeing the police coming closer, he calms down quickly.

Walkers bus run by volunteers is parked outside the entrance of the Kontula metro station. Inside is warm and tea and coffee is being served. It is crowded with lots of young people inside. On an average night, about 50 young people visit the bus. Some are acting quite rough, some are just watching over what others do. There is a card game under way on one of the tables. When constable Mara enters the bus, there is a buzz. Everyone is eager to sit next to her, there is some shoving and pushing.

Mara takes time to talk with everyone and answer questions.

When can you fire the gun? Have you ever shot anyone? Does the police aim to the legs first? Can I try the taser? Mara says the questions are often the same. Many have also seen police series or reality-tv, and want to know if the situations are real.

“Why do you want to be a gangsta, Kontula is no ghetto, right”, laughs Mara. A group of young are eager to try being locked inside back of the patrol car. Mara opens the doors, but after closing them, the knocks out start almost immediately.

“There is no way I want to be in there”, says one of the young locked inside once he is out.

After breaking up a small fight, outside the shopping center few old friends come and greet. Mara talks about one boy starting a family and increased responsibility coming with it. There should be no more fooling around now. Even if many of the youth she meets have committed crime and been in serious situations with police, they usually take it in their stride, says Susanna Mara.

“It often amazes be, when we for example catch runways and return them to institutions in the middle of their partying, still they might send a message the following weekend saying it would be nice to see you again”, says Susanna Mara.

In preventative police work there is an opportunity to make a permanent change in a young person’s life, says senior constable Kristian Paavilainen. “Of course it takes many players to really make a difference, but police can play a crucial part, for example catching the young in the right moment and preventing a more serious series of crimes from happening. Compared with regular police work, I would say we have a better chance of really helping.”

The help takes many forms, the police can sit down with the parents for a chat concerning the situation. With some parents, it has been agreed, that if a particular young person is seen outside after the curfew, police will call parents immediately.

The parking hall inside the shopping center is cold and damp. A group of youngsters like to hang out there anyway. The police go and check what they are doing. The young are just smoking and chatting. One of the young men there has previously been involved in crime, but has since reformed. Susanna asks him about school and encourages him to finish comprehensive. Online, they have been also chatting about the future, and Susanna has even sent links on summer job opportunities.

“If someone who has previously broken the law, is now advising others that it is not clever, I really feel I have succeeded in my work”, Mara says.

These are the good cops, says the smallest young boy in the group gathered with others in the dark corner of the parking hall. One of the young boys wants to feel what it is like to be handcuffed. Mara does if so swiftly that everyone laughs.

Many times Susanna Mara will continue talks with the young online after meeting them during the night. Still she sometimes wonders if she has done enough.

“The people I meet on the street stay on my mind. I wonder if I have missed something. I wonder if they would have liked to tell something more. You have to be really sensitive when listening to the young, you have to put out the right questions. Many times I wonder whether I said the right thing.”

The Friday night in the East Helsinki continues. Patrol unit receives information that the Walkers bus has been forced to close after fighting. On top of that, the security at the Kontula shopping center has been forced to throw out all young people from the shopping center. The police get a tip that some of the young people involved in the fight might have be in Itäkeskus shopping center. After arriving there, the police reach those involved quickly. Mara tells them firmly to straighten their act and sends them home. In these cases the parents are always contacted and the child welfare is informed.

A group of young people in Kontula are drunk and posses alcohol. The liquor is discharged and police informs the child welfare about their alcohol abuse. Their behavior is otherwise good, so they don’t receive a ticket this time.

Rest of the night the patrol tries to find a 17 year old with a warrant. Constables Mara, Kråknäs and Paavilainen walk around the Malmintori shopping center. There is a group of young people hanging out. They are sent home, as it is close to 1 am.

“Even if we aim to help these young people, we are not only nice. For myself, I am especially concerned about the 13 year olds, hanging out with drunkards and drug users even when it is 11 pm”, Mara adds.

The shift ends. The police goes through the events and plan the following shift. The incidents with the very young teenagers stay on constable Mara’s mind.

The patrol car is washed and the group heads home.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson


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”To learn feels great”

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

Have a nice weekend! Moikka! Bye!

Happy greetings are exchanged, as students are spreading each to their directions to enjoy the weekend. Some students from the pre-comprehensive studies class continue to learn computer skills in the classroom opposite. Ahmed Karimali, 18 stays behind to have a short talk with his teacher.

Ahmed has been in Finland for a year and three months. He arrived in Finland alone, under aged asylum seeker entering through the Northern route. His parents didn’t continue the journey with him, but stayed behind in Turkey. Ahmed has not been able to contact them since.

“I don’t know where they are.”

Ahmed is living independently in Mellunmäki in East part of Helsinki. He travels every morning to take the class at the Helsinki Deaconess Institute. His teacher Taina Cederström praises Ahmed for always being one of the first students to arrive. There is a reason for Ahmed wanting to be early, he feels lonely in Mellunmäki, as his friends from school and from refugee center live elsewhere.

“Every single day after school I go to the gym for a few hours. I want to be as tired as possible before going home. I have nothing there. I just eat and go to bed. In the morning I do the same all over again.”

No school today

Ahmed was born and raised in Khanaqin, Iraq. Khanaqin is located in the Eastern part of the country close to the Iranian border. Ahmed is a Kurd, and his mother tongue is Kurdish language called Sorani. There are about six million Sorani speakers in Iraq. It is written using the Persian alphabet. For Ahmed, he struggles to read and write his mother tongue, as he has in Iraq never spent a day in school.

“In Khanaqin, some children did attend school, but many like me, just went to work. Our family was not rich. I started working on construction sites when I was ten years old. My day’s salary was 3, 5 euros.”

In Iraq children often work on construction sites doing many menial work, including electricity jobs. There were no books in Ahmed’s home, and he did not receive encouragement to learn how to read or write. As an only child Ahmed was given a lot of freedom. He describes playing with other boys after work, but ending up in fights.

“So I stayed at home instead.”

Ahmed says he was frustrated, as those children who had the opportunity to go to school did learn to read and write. But without school, learning was difficult.

Smooth learning

First time Ahmed sat behind a desk in a classroom was in Finland. Studying began from Roman letters and numbers. In the beginning, studying was hard. Even the first words were a challenge. Now Ahmed is one of the best pupils in the class. He has learned to read and write Finnish in a year and speaks well. He has learned mathematics and is a talented drawer, using color creatively, his teacher tells.

As Ahmed describes the last months in Iraq, he speaks quietly, occasionally glancing the window. Last moments were difficult, as there was no money and it became increasingly clear that they would have to flee. Isis was only 20 minutes away from the city, and Peshmerga army could not guarantee the safety of the citizens. After fleeing, departing from his Mother and Father in Turkey was heartbreaking. Ahmed crossed the Mediterranean in a small boat.

“I don’t know with European countries I have crossed. There were times I was in a forest. I slept for a month in a forest, somewhere in Europe.”

The silent country

Despite going to the gym, Ahmed likes to play football occasionally. In Finland he appreciates the safety, and doesn’t mind the silence. But he misses the sense of community from Iraq a lot.

“In Finland, boys and men don’t say anything. Even the neighbor does not greet you.”

Ahmed describes, how in Iraq friends and neighbors visit each other often. When someone gets sick, people go and see if they can help. Also, if you don’t hear from someone for a few days, friends visit to see if everything is all right.

“In Finland, you can die at home alone and no one would notice.”

The best friends for Ahmed are also Kurds. They speak about learning Finnish, plan life and dream. Ahmed uses a lot of time to do his homework and reads Finnish books with the help of a dictionary in the evenings.

“My only goal now is to learn Finnish. Anything I want to study, I need the language. In the future I would love to be a police or a nurse. In Finland it is possible.”

For this story, Ahmed wanted to be photographed in front of the blackboard in the classroom. On the board he wanted to write a word in Kurdish Sorani. Under the word, he wrote the same word in Finnish. It means “beautiful”.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson


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Freedom to be myself

In News, refugee, therapy, torture by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

Nosa Ajani, 25 sits peacefully curled up on the sofa. Crunched in her palm is a piece of tissue, needed from time to time, as talking about her life brings back unwanted memories. But actually, Nosa has turned a new leaf in her story, one that lets her be more and more her true self. A woman she was always meant to be. Also part of her new life is a new home country Finland, a new name, new friends. A new beginning and lots of newfound hope.

Nosa was born as a boy in the city of Nasiriyya in southeast Iraq. When she reached puberty, she found herself thinking increasingly, that deep inside she is something else. Someone else. Surrounded by deeply religious community, these emotions were however not accepted. When Nosa started to dress differently, setting herself apart from men in her community, she was openly hated and despised.

“For myself, it became bit by bit more clear who I am. But as I was getting to know myself, I was often in very dangerous situations. I was raped more than once. But I did find a boyfriend. Unfortunately once when we were together, police caught us and I was imprisoned.”

Keys to her own apartment are important for Nosa.

Hard time inside prison walls

Nosa takes a break. Talking about the time in prison is hard, memories vague. Inside the prison walls, Nosa was tortured violently.

“Things were out of my hands, I had no power. Everyone in Iraq was against me. Everyone, even the people closest to me, my own family.”

Nosa’s father found out that Nosa was in prison and came to get her out. Pressure from the community was hard, Nosa and her identity were not accepted. The police informed Nosa’s father that she had been caught having sex with a man. This infuriated Nosa’s father and things turned violent.

“He burned my legs with fire, I still carry the scars. The hurting did not end there. Finally I had to run away. I was hiding for three days and didn’t return home until I knew my father was not in. I collected some of my things and left.”

Looking for safety

Once the decision to flee was made, emotions run wild. Nosa was struggling between hope and despair.

“I was aimlessly walking on the streets. I just kept thinking that there must be a place where I can be myself. A safe place to live free as I want. Nothing else was on my mind. Just a safe place, I kept repeating myself.”

Not knowing anything about the journey, no set destination, Nosa was scared. She also kept thinking about her family, even if she had received so much hatred, leaving was still difficult. What pushed her forward was a strong will to live.

“If I would have stayed in Iraq, within a month I would have died, that is for sure. I heard that the blue car of the secret police came every day looking for me around our house.”

Hopes and fears

It took Nosa almost a month to arrive in Finland. Crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece she took a boat. After Greece, Serbia, Hungary and Germany Nosa ended up in Finland, reception center in Kemijärvi, northern part of the country. The beginning was hard. Again Nosa had to face hate and violence. In the reception center, she was raped. Daily she kept thinking weather the positive residence permit will come or not.

“All the time I was so afraid that I will not get the permission to stay and I will be sent back to Iraq. That would have meant death for me.”

In the reception center, Nosa received great support from a nurse working there. Talking helped. In her office there was no pressure to hold back the tears.

“The nurse understood how dangerous it was for me to be there, because of my sexuality. She helped me to get transferred to Helsinki.”

Nosa took a tattoo to her right hand to celebrate the positive residence permit. Name of the boat strongly going forward is Life. 

Support from friends

In Helsinki, Nosa was placed in the Ruskeasuo reception center. Everything changed there. There were other sexual minority asylum seekers, gay and transgender. Finally Nosa could feel that she can talk with someone and be understood. These new friends even gave Nosa her new name.

“I think LGBT –people should have their own floor in the reception center. That is the only way we can be safe. Now I have received so much support from my friends in similar situation. I have also found it very helpful to go to meetings with support groups like HeSeta (*). Through Helsinki Deaconess Institute I have found a mentor, who is like a mother to me.”

In June 2016 Nosa received the news, that she has been granted a residence permit in Finland. Now she lives in her own apartment and is studying Finnish language. When asked when she feels most happy, the answer comes quickly. For Nosa, biggest moment of happiness is putting on makeup, doing her hair, dress up nicely and walk outside, being herself.

In the future Nosa would like to offer her support to other young people going through similar experiences. Doctor has promised Nosa that she can soon start the process to physically transfer to a female through hormone treatment and operation. Biggest dream however is simply to find love, Nosa says, and her eyes light up.

“I want to be 100 percent woman. I want to be married, go to work and live a normal and stable life. The same as everyone else. Safe and happy life.”

Story, photos: Anna Gustafsson



* HeSeta Together group, group support for LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees.


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A plate full of African flavors

In Food, News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

The hustle and bustle of the street stays out when stepping inside a small African restaurant in Helsinki. The smell of spices in the air is tempting, soft beats of African music linger invitingly. In a corner table, a small family is concentrated in enjoying the day’s lunch: fried plantain, Ethiopian chicken stew, Nigerian lentil sauce and yellow pan fried rice. Soon a regular enters, wanting to taste a new dish on the menu: chili paste with tamarind. A big dollop of it is dropped in the middle of a hot bowl of coconut sweet potato soup.

African food in Finland is somewhat a rarity. There are not many African restaurants, especially outside Helsinki area. African Pots –restaurant is unique, as it serves real fusion of food: dishes from the whole African continent. The menu changes weekly, and includes tastes from over ten different countries. Regulars praise especially fried plantains and the house tomato sauce, which are cornerstones of the menu and always stay on the list.

For the African community in Helsinki, the restaurant is important. Familiar smells and tastes provoke deep emotions. Even if many cook African food at home, the food culture from a neighboring African country can be something new. For example peanut sauce is cooked and served differently in many African countries. When cooking authentic African food, real spices are needed. Unfortunately not all of them are easily available in Finland. African Pots –restaurant imports some for their own need. One of their principles is to cook everything on the spot, from scratch.

Afrobeat sounds

Atmosphere is big part of African Pots. In charge of it is Richmond Ghansah, 26. The restaurant is run by Afaes multicultural organization, where Ghansah works as a marketing and sales executive.

Richmond puts the soundtrack together weekly. On the playlist you can find anything from West African afrobeat to rumba from Congo. Richmond says, that he aims to make everyone feel at ease.

“The music in a restaurant should fit all, the playlist should include upbeat sounds and something to chill to. I have seen people coming here with lots on their mind and ending up swinging to the music. Main goal is that people leave with their bellies full and with a good feeling.”

Richmond Ghansah, 26.

Serving rarities

As Richmond puts it, African Pots wants to take the customers on a “journey through Africa”. For many African living in Helsinki, the restaurant is the only chance to taste food that is not common here. These might include Nigerian MoyMoy –pudding, Chapati bread from Kenya or Semolina based Fufu served along with stew made with Egusi seeds.

For Finns African Pots wants to make the rich African food culture better known. Many have prejudice that African food is always spicy. In African Pots the customers can customize the level of spiciness by adding homemade chili pastes. Many also think that African food is always meaty, instead at African Pots vegetarian and vegan food is always available.

In addition to serving great food, the restaurants wants to promote African food culture in Finland. They also want to support and train Africans to work in restaurants, so that African cuisine could be more readily available here. African Pots has taken young interns to work in the restaurant, with good results. With one young person, the work experience with lead to a whole new chapter in life. The feedback from teachers and parents was very positive.

The lunch time is nearly over and the restaurant goes slowly quiet. For rest of the day catering and cooking schools keep the staff busy. I leave with a lovely coconut and mango chili taste in my mouth. (in Finnish) Some English on restaurant Facebook page

Editor, Photos: Anna Gustafsson


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Living in shadows

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

Hiding from officials, living in fear day in day out, unknown future, little options of getting out. Life as an undocumented migrant is not easy in Finland.

Support network in Finnish welfare society is comprehensive, but in order to get help a person has to be able to identify him/herself with documents. In order to get an apartment, take up work or receive healthcare, the papers have to be in order. A person without documents is in a very vulnerable position and easily becomes a victim of abuse of many kind.

There is no single reason a person ends up as an undocumented migrant. Some might be students, whose visas run out during their stay. Others might be from another EU-country and have legal right to be here, but don’t have insurance covering healthcare.

It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of undocumented migrants in Finland. Few years ago the police reported meeting approximately 3 000 people yearly without necessary documents. The number is expected to be on the rise.

Victims vulnerable

During the past few years 37 000 asylum seekers and refugees have arrived in Finland. Last year little bit over half of the applications for permanent residency were rejected. Part of the rejected asylum seekers remain in a limbo, without clear route ahead. They cannot stay, nor go back.

End of last year 4 000 people in Finland were lost from the refugee center system records. Some have undoubtedly carried on their journey to another European country. Some have returned where they once left. But some are living underground in Finland. There are about thousand people waiting to be returned to their respective countries by officials.

Leena-Kaisa Åberg is Executive Director of Victim Support Finland. She started in her current position three years ago, having previously worked with migrant issues for many years. Åberg is increasingly worried about the situation undocumented migrants face when they become victims of crime. Undocumented persons are very prone to abuse, theft, fraud, hate crime, violence or they end up working in inhuman and illegal conditions. Their eagerness to contact police is however extremely low, as they don’t have high level of trust in the institutions.

For an undocumented migrant it is not so simple to report a crime, because there is always the fear of expulsion. The process in court takes a long time, and there is uncertainty not only of the outcome, but also about the person’s status during the process. As victims of crime undocumented migrants don’t receive any special treatment, only victims of human trafficking have a possibility for a temporary residence permit during the court proceedings.

Leena-Kaisa Åberg, Executive director of Victim Support Finland.

Motivation to report low

For undocumented migrants the motivation to report crime might be low. For example, the residence permit of victims of labor exploitation can be linked to the employment relationship. If they start a process against the employer they are in direct danger of losing their job and therefore their only chance of remaining in the country. The employer might be also be a relative, which makes reporting even harder.

In cases of domestic abuse, the victim’s residence permit might be dependent on being married with the partner who has committed violent acts. In that case reporting is difficult, and fear of losing child custody might be imminent.

It is not easy to motivate the victim to report. For example in cases of human trafficking the authentication of the crime is not straightforward. During the process, the classification of the crime might change, for example from human trafficking to extortionate work discrimination, and in consequence the victim’s status deteriorates and there are no grounds for a residence permit.

Leena-Kaisa Åberg from Victim Support Finland.

Executive Director Leena-Kaisa Åberg from Victim Support explains the way things are handled for example in Holland. There undocumented migrants as a victims of crime can report to the police without fear of detention. There is a protecting barrier between the police and immigration officials. In addition, a temporary residence permit could be granted, if the victim is co-operates with the officials in solving the case. During the court process, also shelter and subsistence support should be offered.

Each one of us can help undocumented migrants by keeping eyes open. For example in hospitality or construction businesses one might come across people working in poor conditions, long hours. These cases are best reported to the police immediately.

Undocumented migrants have the right for some forms of help and support. They can be placed in immediate shelter and receive acute healthcare should they need it. The support and advice from Victim Support Finland is also open and free for everyone, regardless of status in Finland.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson

Photo: Minna Manninen

Help for undocumented migrants:


Undocumented migrants can receive free healthcare in five cities. Global Clinic is run by volunteer professional healthcare workers. The location is kept discreet and the personnel are bound by confidentiality obligation.

Contact information:

Helsinki:, call: +358 44 9774547

Turku:, call: +358 46 6251412

Joensuu: call: +358 46 5900186



Legal advice:

The lawyer of the Project for Undocumented Migrants is on call between 2 pm and 4 pm Mondays and Thursdays. Free of charge. Call: +358 45 237 71 04. You can also email to

Support and advice for victims of crime:

Victim Support Finland has open line from Monday to Tuesday from 1 pm to 9 pm and from Wednesday to Friday from 5 pm to 9 pm. Call 116006. The lawyer is on call from Monday to Thursday from 5 pm to 7 pm call 0800 161 177. Advice is free and open to anyone.


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Anybody speak Finnish?

In children, Finnish, Language, News, School by Anna Gustafsson1 Comment

If I speak Finnish at school and with friends, but use another language at home with my parents, can I still call myself a Finnish speaker? And what about a person, who has maybe just arrived in Finland, and does not yet speak Finnish, but has the ability to speak four, five other languages, is it justified to label that person lacking language skills? Does only Finnish language ability count? These are questions many young people with multicultural or immigrant background have to go through.

Dr. Heini Lehtonen spent over a year in observing and studying students in schools in east part of Helsinki. She has done research on the language young people use. Another research project has just commenced in University of Helsinki. The researchers want to shake our ideas of language and language skills.

Multilingual lessons learned

Dr. Heini Lehtonen and her colleagues have visited a classroom in a school in Helsinki, where among 22 students, there are 15 different first languages. The students have tried out each other’s languages, learned some words in a new language, and for example done an art project with Cyrillic alphabet. A new boy in class, who had recently arrived in Finland, had the chance to feel important and special, when teaching others Arabic. All youth need to have the experience that their own language is important. This comes from example others wanting to learn that language.

In a multicultural classroom, the students will be better equipped for the future, says researcher Heini Lehtonen.

“In the future, being able to succeed at work means being able to work together with people from various backgrounds. A person used to different cultures is not afraid of being surrounded by unfamiliar language.” Also, another great ability is to know how to deal with a situation where there is no common language.

Arabic influences in Finnish

As a linguistic, Heini Lehtonen reminds us, that language is constantly changing. Finnish language is full of words from another countries, influences have arrived from Baltics, sometimes from Sweden or Russia. New expressions and words are integrated in to a language with people to people interaction. Heini Lehtonen describes, how in history for example vocabulary for animal rearing spread, when animal husbandry was adopted from another culture. From Russia came a lot of words for church vocabulary.

Heini Lehtonen has done research on an Arabic expression which has spread among youth in European cities. Arabic word wallahi can be roughly translated as “promise in God’s name”. In consequence, youth have started to use words swear and promise in a new way, to express their stance or attitude to something they said.

Some of the more recent examples show, how English words have been integrated into Finnish through IT branch. Already can be seen, how words and expressions have been adopted from Somalian, especially in the language used by young people. Researcher Heini Lehtonen compares modern youth language to Helsinki slang from 1940s and 50s: the old slang is respected and protected. Could the Somalian influences have the same respected position in 200 years?

More acceptance needed

Finnish skills are still in many ways the key to be included in the Finnish society. Language should not however be used to lock people out. Dr. Heini Lehtonen hopes, that we learn to be more accepting when it comes to different ways of speaking Finnish.

“Learning to listen to different Finnish is a matter of getting used to it. Too often we think, that if someone speaks with a different accent or in otherwise different way, that person cannot speak Finnish. It would be good to broaden our idea of what Finnish skills actually are. Finnish can be used in many ways.”

Multilingual youth have to in many cases defend their right to be a Finn.

“A person, who has spent their entire life immersed in just one language has really hard time understanding how difficult it is having all the time prove your language skills”, Heini Lehtonen says. “This happens however a lot for example for Somali youth. In Finland, we still have a stereotype that a Finn can only look a certain way, if you look different, you don’t speak Finnish.”

Editor: Anna Gustafsson

Photo: Elisa Seppänen





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Beauty has many faces

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

Modeling agency Azzurro in Helsinki is quiet in the morning. The owner of the agency Tomi Jäderholm is concentrated on studying new photos of Karina Minayeva. Karina, 17 started modeling already aged 13. The profession has been her dream ever since she was a little girl.

Azzurro has in their books 200 – 300 models depending a year. As the agency is specialized in finding models for all advertisers, they have in their lists models with different looks and profiles. Many differ from traditional or standard look that is expected from a Finn. The wishes from customers have changed over the year, the owner Tomi Jäderholm explains.

“When we started back in 1994, the classic Finnish look was still very much in demand. Nokia and their international success story changed a lot of things. Suddenly other international companies started to ask for international faces to use in the advertisements.”

Tomi Jäderholm says that now advertisement aimed at a Finnish audience has a more varied range of people. Food production company Felix received a lot of feedback, when its advertisement included a girl with African look expressing her feelings about being a Finn. On the other hand many advertisers don’t mind feedback, but want to represent multicultural and international ideals instead.

Cultural diversity and modeling

Karina was born in Crimea and moved to Finland as a child with her parents. Karina’s parents are half Ukrainian, half Russian. Karina herself grew up in Finland, and says that she cannot answer, when someone asks whether she is Russian.

“If someone asks if I am Russian or Ukrainian, I am lost. I go to school in Finland, but I speak Russian. I have lived in both Russian and Ukrainian cultures.”

Karina has received the odd comment on her Russian background. Some have said that a certain bold attitude is linked to being Russian. There are other stereotypes too, but Karina says that she has not been forced to justify her background, it has more been an asset.

“I switch very naturally between cultures, my ability to transform is a great advantage in modeling. Also under stress I am able to adjust maybe better than someone else”, Karina describes.

What is beauty?

Scandinavian look is fashionable now, says Tomi Jäderholm, but most important aspect is personality. Dealing with beauty every day, Jäderholm is still puzzled when it comes to the question who has the right to be beautiful in Finland.

“There are no qualifications for beauty. Often just the fact that you feel comfortable in your own skin makes you glow – and look beautiful.”

Model Karina says, that in order to get modeling jobs, it is best to be yourself.

“As a model it is good to have looks that are unique. Being a successful model means that people remember you. The client picks you, because you are different”, Karina says.



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New year, new start – Finding work through training

In Employment, News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

Another school day is over. Olga, 25 is little bit worn out, but the day has been interesting. There were lessons on food safety. Also, a representative from one of the biggest food industry companies in Finland Fazer has been over to tell about safety at work. Olga Maximova is studying in a training program organized jointly by Diaconia College of Finland and Fazer. The program is part of Fazer’s celebrations for its 125th anniversary. Also jointly celebrated: Finland’s centennial.

The training program that Olga is joining is already second of its kind. First students started in August last year. Olga started with the second round of students at the end of the year. The interest toward the training programs has been huge: altogether there has been over 600 applications.

“A Russian friend of mine told me about this training program. She applied as well, but unfortunately did not get through. I was so happy to be chosen, as there were so many applicants”, Olga describes. In Olga’s group there are 22 students.

Food industry company Fazer aims to train altogether 125 people, who have faced difficulties finding work. Some might be long-term unemployed, some may have faced other difficulties in the work market – for example because of immigration background. Fazer offers all the trainees on-the-job learning.

Hopes for permanent work

Despite her young age, Olga has already work experience. She has studied horticulture and gardening and worked in a flower shop. She arrived in Finland alone when only 17 years old, from Russian Karelia. Unfortunately she has also bad experiences from the labor market in Finland.

“The maintenance company where I was working went under and I didn’t receive my salary. After that I was working in catering at the airport through temp work agency. I was working there regularly, but then they reduced staff”, Olga tells.

As a mother of a toddler, Olga has big responsibility. What she is looking for from the training program is a chance for permanent work.

“I really want to have permanent position, somewhere to work longer. I would not like to run around looking for work anymore”, Olga emphasizes. “As a mother of a small child, it is challenging to organize things with the daycare if schedules keep changing. Also it is hard to live in uncertainty. A friend of mine has worked with Fazer and I have heard good things about the company”, Olga adds.


Olga and her teacher Mari Kahila. 

Fazer received positive feedback

On-the-job learning that Fazer offers the trainees can be in catering, food processing or for example packing, customer service or logistics. The training is designed to fit the work. As skills and experience develop, the assignments can change. At normal rate, Fazer recruits about thousand people every year, but they are in need of skillful employees all the time.

First students have already worked at Fazer. The feedback has been positive, tells HR Senior Vice President Mika Videman from Fazer.

“As the first groups have now been at work the feedback from both them and the managers has been positive. I have heard they are excellent people. We still have some way to go, but the start has been good. It would not work, unless our own staff was not so committed. I have gotten the message from our employees that they are proud Fazer is doing this”, Mika Videman describes.

The training program lasts from three to six months. The whole program is estimated to run for about two years. Fazer’s Mika Videman looks forward to other companies also establishing their own projects, to find more employment in Finland, for example for the youth.

Editor and photos: Anna Gustafsson




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Peer court session is all about listening

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

It is already late in the evening and a peer court consisting of four teenage boys is so excited it is hard for them to sit still for an interview. Few hour session as a court has been successful. All the cases they have covered so far have been different and that makes this work interesting, says 16 year old court member Asser Blomerus.

He and other members of the peer court have faced several youth under 15, who have gotten into trouble. The model for peer court comes from the US and the first in Helsinki meets in Itäkeskus once a month. There is another court in planning, and hopefully having also girls as court members. The peer court system in Helsinki was brought to Finland and developed by the We Foundation Migrant Youth Helsinki.

The cases that the peer court handles are chosen by the police. They can be for example misdemeanor or minor violence. Police does not question those under 15, as they are not fully liable under civil law. At best peer court is a fast way to react to juvenile delinquency. At best the young person is in front of a peer court in a week after the police report. The peer court listens and strives to understand the choices that have lead the youth to trouble. It is equally important that a concrete consequence follows the offence. That can be anything from an apology to working to pay back the damage caused.

A peer court member has to empathize

19 year old Abdultawab Qaderzada has been part of the first peer court already from the planning stage. He emphasizes that the peer court is not there to judge.

“In one case I got the feeling that this was the first time anyone had really listened to the youth. It might be that several adults have looked into his situation, but many have been quick to point a finger or just listen to those that do so. There is a barrier that we have get through, but as we open the case and the consequences, the youth will start to feel more secure. And we also share some of our own experiences in a similar situation, so it builds trust.”

18 year old Ghaith Al-Shahmani says that it is important to empathize with the delinquent in order to make a real change in his behavior.

“You have to create a safe atmosphere to reach his emotions. We ask who he has offended and make him for example see what this has caused to his parents. Usually the youth realizes, that after what he has done the only way to repair anything is by changing attitude.”

It takes skills to make a young person open up in front of a peer court, says 17 year old Mohamed Abdulkadir.

“We build the case bit by bit with questions. Usually they warm up and start telling the truth. It might be that the whole story changes. Usually, when the parents leave the room, the youth will start telling more. When the parents return, the youth is ready to tell the same to them. It is a relief for the parents as well.”

Peer to peer matters

There are adults present in the peer court sessions: guardian of the offender and the police, but it is the peer court members that take the lead. It makes a difference that there is another young person behind the table, says Mohamed Abdulkadir.

“Most of the young persons who walk in are pretty shy. Even if in the police report gives the impression that they are quite tough, here they come with their heads down. It matters that we are of same age and understand his problems. We can empathize, be there with him and really listen. We understand why things might have started. “

It helps the peer court members that they themselves might have been in situations, where they have reacted in the wrong way. Still it is not easy to really to the bottom of the cases, says Mohamed Abdulkadir. Abdultawab Qaderzada agrees.

”We have seen many different backgrounds here. There are youth from different schools and different circle of friends. You can never say there is one clear reason for the offences. Each case is its own challenge.”

The police feedback from the peer court has been excellent. Relapses after peer court have been few: In Helsinki almost all cases have been the first and last offences. Also the peer court members take their responsibility seriously, says 16 year old Asser Blomerus.

“For me personally this is a big thing. Even if in the past there have been situations, where I have not done the right thing, now I think I have to behave straight, as I want to keep being a member in the peer court.”

Editor: Anna Gustafsson