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Islamophobia – prejudice and hate

In hatespeech, internet, islamophobia, News, racism by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments


“Before, it was more predictable what kind of people could shout something racist. Today it can be anyone: just your average man in a suit on his way to work”, describes the situation in Finland a young woman with Somali background. Anti-Muslim prejudice and racism has become more common.

Islamophobia means racism against Muslims, demonization of Muslims, hatred against Islam as a religion or discrimination towards Muslims based on their religion. Islamophobic thinking divides people to “us” and “them”. Those outside get blamed for a variety of problems.

Islamophobia in Finland is widespread, says the speaker for Young Muslims in Finland Association, Nuoret Muslimit ry, Hunderra Assefa. There is clear prejudice in the media and in the public debate.

Islamophobia demonstrates itself also as discrimination at work or school. Muslims can be outed from politics, power and therefore responsibility. There is also physical violence, hate speech and crimes against property, like attacks towards mosques. When the Young Muslims Association polled its members, over 85 percent of those that replied said they have experienced or witnessed Islamophobia.

pepole praying to allah god of Islam on sunset.

Rise in hate crime

Islamophobic thinking ignores the diversity of Islam. As Islamophobia sees a person only through one thing, it is presumed every single Muslim to represent the whole religion. The overall view of Islam is narrow. Fear, detestation and hatred target both persons and the religion as a whole.

The hate speech online is unfortunately a known phenomenon. But hate speech and racist writing lead also to actions. The police in Finland reports over 50 percent growth in hate crime last year. Also on the rise are crimes that target a religion. In 2015 the police reported 133 suspected cases of crimes against religion. Little bit over half of the cases are crimes that target Muslims in particular.

Hunderra Assefa says that on the street Muslim women are most likely to be objects of Islamophobia. They are shoved, pushed, spitted on or called derogatory names. Dressed according to their religion they are a visible target for hate. Young Muslims Association also gets its share of hate mail, both email and through Facebook.

Information literacy as a tool against Islamophobia

Islamophobia is not an isolated phenomena limited to Finland, instead across Europe there are anti-Muslim campaigns and movements. Social media gives a platform and feeds anti-Islam sentiments online.

Hunderra Assefa regrets, that according to studies, most Finns get their daily news through social media feed. Our attention span in the digital world has gotten shorter. We are looking for easily digestible 30 second clips that support the views we already have. Assefa calls for better media and information literacy as a tool to fight against islamophobia.

“Social media feed is an easy read”, Hunderra says. “But when you really open yourself to debate, you have to start looking at things more deeply from different angles. That is for many not such an easy task, as time and patience are limited. We want material that is easily understandable and doesn’t require too much analysis. Therefore it is too easy to accept black and white thinking”, Hunderra Assefa says.

Worry for young Muslims

Hunderra Assefa is especially worried about young Muslims in Finland. They are growing up in a hostile, anti-Islam environment. At worst hostile environment marginalizes a young person and makes him detached from the society. On the other hand, some choose to process it the other way.

“In some cases Islamophobia provokes a kind of spark in a young person, he or her wants to rise these issues up and question them”, Hunderra Assefa emphasizes. “A youth wants a better society for himself and others in similar situation. In best case this will strengthen his or her identity. But do we really want anyone to go through it the hardest way?”

Editor: Anna Gustafsson





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”I feel the doors are still closed for me”

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

When Elena Taborova, 22 was still a school girl, she was already building robots in her room all night, using her father´s tools. From early on it was clear that she wants to follow her parents’ footsteps to become an engineer. Born and raised in Petrozavodsk, Russia Elena was only 17 when she moved by herself to Finland to study. Moving away from her childhood home and family was tough at first.

“My move to Finland was the dream of my parents, to give me better life than they had. They have supported me in any decision I have ever made. I started to look into what kind of country Finland is and what can you study here. It was not easy, as a foreign student we have to show that we have sufficient amount of money in the bank, 7 000 euros to support ourselves. I had to take a bank loan for that.”

Elena found the perfect place for study in Lappeenranta Saimaa University of Applied Sciences. She graduated as a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering in June 2015, when she was only 21 years old. The degree was done in English. The students were given a lot of independence which took a little to get used to.

“In Russia the teachers really push you and help you reach your goals. The Russian school does teach you self-discipline and after school everyone goes for after school activities. In the beginning in Finland I felt the teachers just give you the material and say go and study. I was lucky to have some nice teachers who helped me and encouraged me. The best part was the school laboratory and practical work there.”

Looking for work in Helsinki

Before graduating Elena was working at the school laboratory. She also did her thesis for the school. In the laboratory she built and programmed robotics. Her work is now used at the school as a manual. Her thesis she did in collaboration with a German professor. Despite her success in Lappeenranta, there are scarcely work there for engineers, so Elena headed for Helsinki.

“In the beginning I did not know anybody here and I didn’t have a job. It took long time to find an apartment. My parents have been supportive, when I have been breaking down, but they don’t know all the challenges in Helsinki. I have not been able to share everything with them.”

Elena has been busy looking for work. She did an unpaid internship in a piping company´s research and development department, but is still hunting for a stable job. Interested in languages she speaks several herself: despite native Russian, she speaks English fluently, can get by in Finnish and has studied German, French, Spanish and Chinese. Despite her young age, she has four years’ worth of work experience as an engineer. Job hunting has been at times frustrating and it has been hard to stay motivated when money is the problem.

“I am tired of this phase. I feel I have been fighting for my life in Finland for five years already. I have heard stories of discrimination for foreigners from the employers, but I cannot believe them. Helsinki is such an international city. I think employers what to hire someone speaking English as well. I would like to have the opportunity to show my skills as an engineer.”

Holding on to her dreams

Job hunting is hard. Elena describes, how the applications are now done electronically, which does not give enough opportunities to build a full picture of what she can do. She feels the employers just glance through the CV, but it would be much better to communicate through face to face meeting. But an interview is difficult to land, as there are always so many applicants. It is also hard to know what kind of language is best used when applying for a job, so that you stand out positively. Does the employer appreciate if you say you are the best applicant they will see?

While job hunting Elena has also established her own clothing company, where she designs and sews clothes. She also does volunteer work as a graphic designer. She has not given up on her dreams. Small things help her hold on to them, for example when American space agency NASA replied to an email concerning a traineeship.

“I feel there are a lot of doors I could open, but at the moment they are all shut and I don’t know how to open them. People always advice you to listen to your heart, but it is not that simple. I will continue to develop myself and I am ready to work twice, three times as hard as others to achieve my dreams.”

Elena wants to also give credit to her family in supporting her in this phase in her life.

“My family keeps me in in flow to reach my goals”, she adds. “I know they try their best to give me better life, even if I have to experience such hard problems. I want to make them proud of their daughter. Also, settling down in Finland will give a great opportunity to bring my young sister here, so she can rise in a more comfortable atmosphere and in better conditions.”

Editor: Anna Gustafsson, Photo: Tuomas Aflecht





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New experiences, new music

In News by Anna Gustafsson

The big Concert Hall of Musiikkitalo, Helsinki Music Centre is echoing with the sounds of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra tuning their instruments and preparing for the final practice before the evening´s concert.

In the program: works by French composer Claude Debussy from the late 19th century and after the intermission, full plate of Sibelius: Symphony No. 3 and tone poem Lemminkäinen Returns.

Gathered for the final practice are many seasoned visitors, but looking for their seats are also at least three first timers. Emat Al-Abbas, 27, Liam Parsons, 28 and Dat Vo, 24. All are studying Finnish language at Stadin ammattiopisto in Helsinki. The concert is part of studies to learn more about culture in Finland.

Originally from Vietnam, Dat has been in Finland already for a few years. He plays the guitar occasionally at home, but his taste in music is more in line of Bob Marley.

“This was the first time for me to hear classical music. It was relaxing, I felt like I was watching a movie. At home I don´t listen to this type of music at all.”

Dat’s impression of the first orchestral work of the concert is actually spot on, as Debussy’s Rondes de printemps is part of a series of compositions called Images. Rondes de printemps paints a picture of Spring, May in particular. The composer has included part of a French nursery melody in to the composition.

The conductor Olari Elts makes the orchestra play parts of the work over and over again. Some in audience are getting fidgety, but Liam Parsons, who moved from England to Finland a bit over a year ago sits still. He is an experienced musician. Liam has performed singing and playing the guitar and still plays music every day at home. He is familiar with classical music, as his sister used to play in an orchestra and he went to listen to her play.

“I enjoyed it whole”, Liam says. “The first part was the best in my opinion, but I liked everything. I would like to come again for a concert, especially if they would play for example Bach or other baroque music that I like.”

Emat from Irak was not exactly excited about the experience at Musiikkitalo, at least based on the first experience. He is used to listening to Iraq music or pop like Justin Bieber or Miley Curys. He listens to music when he has trouble falling asleep.

“Classical music is not for me. But it was a good experience to visit Musiikkitalo however, as I have not been here before. I like the place.”


The final practice of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is open for anyone. You can buy tickets through Ticketmaster or from the ticket booth at Musiikkitalo. More information on the orchestra and their coming concerts can be obtained from their web page.


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Aqeela Asifi – tireless campaigner for educating girls

In children, education, News by Anna Gustafsson

Aqeela Asifi picks up the phone in Islamabad, Pakistan. She has spent the morning talking with the Afghan Ambassador. After talking with me, she is returning back to Kot Chandna refugee center, where she is running a school for refugee Afghan girls.

Aqeela Asifi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan into a modern, liberal family. All the children in the family, boys and girls, received good education. Aqeela became a teacher herself. Kabul was very different back then, Aqeela describes.

“The Kabul where I grew up was one of the best cities in the world. People were liberal and supportive of girls’ education. There was no difference between men and women. I still miss the Kabul I saw when I was growing as a young girl. I cannot recognize the Kabul I left and the Kabul we see these days. “

Everything changed by the war

Everything changed in Kabul, when the Mujahideen fighters took over Kabul and Afghanistan was thrown into the chaos of civil war in 1992. Asifi family was forced to leave their home over night. 26 year old Aqeela Asifi ended up with thousands of other Afghan refugees to Kon Chandna refugee camp in Pakistan. Kon Chandna is located 250 km from the capital Islamabad. It is still today home to 30 000 Afghan refugees.

The Afghan refugees at the camp came from different parts of Afghanistan. Aqeela realized, that people outside Kabul were not as progressive concerning the education of girls. Aqeela Asifi describes that girls’ education was a big taboo. No one thought that sending girls to school could be an option.

“The beginning in the camp was so dark and gloomy I thought I cannot live there one week”, Aqeela says. “But the teacher inside me kept me working. I started to speak on behalf of education in every opportunity. In the beginning it was very difficult to convince people.”

Traditionally girls stay home

Aqeela started to teach girls in a small tent. In the beginning only 12 girls came for lessons. The tradition was so deeply rooted in the culture to confine girls and women inside the house, Aqeela Asifi says. In the beginning the lessons were basic literacy, but it gave the girls visible confidence. Gradually, as the opposition melted, Aqeela started to teach the girls also history, mathematics and geography. In the beginning the conditions of the school were basic, no white board, instead the girls wrote their first words on the ground.

As the number of students gradually grew, Aqeela started to teach in two shifts. Finally one tent was not enough. Aqeela says that the biggest challenge however was to chance the mindset of people to support educating girls and see the benefits of education in the society.

Nadia, twelve years old, left, and Haseena, nine years old, study with Ms Aqeela Asifi at her girls school in Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan. The sisters are the second generation of their Afghan refugee family to attend school with Ms Asifi; their mother is a former student. Their favourite subject in school is Urdu, and since their mother is also educated, she can help them with their homework. The 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award, Ms Asifi has been recognized for her decades-long effort to promote education for refugee children in Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan. Currently there are more than fourteen thousand refugees in Kot Chandana refugee village, where more than fifty percent of school-aged children do not receive an education.

Last year Aqeela Asifi won the prestigious UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award for her work on behalf of refugees. This year she was among the 10 runner ups for the global best teacher price. Small school in a tent has grown into a complex of nine schools. Aqeela Asifi is still teaching every day despite being the headmistress in the school in Kot Chandna refugee camp. Today 900 girls are studying there.

Education is development and development is education, Aqeela Asifi says.

“You cannot talk about civilization in the absence of education. Developed countries are developed because of the importance they give to education. Educated mother lies the foundation of prolific family. Mothers form families, families form societies. An educated mother can perform miracles.”

The 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award is Ms Aqeela Asifi, an Afghan refugee teacher working in Kot Chandana refugee village in Mianwali, Pakistan. Ms Asifi has been recognized for her decades-long effort to promote education in this conservative community, where many have been reluctant to send their children to school. Currently, there are more than fourteen thousand refugees living in Kot Chandana refugee village, where more than fifty percent of school-aged children do not receive an education. To date, more than one thousand students have completed their studies with Ms Asifi.

Aqeela Asifi, a refugee herself feels deeply about the cause of refugees in the world today. She reminds us that no one leaves their home voluntarily.

“What would you do if your house is ablaze and there is fighting going on in your country? If there is no peace, no security, you lose your job and your children are without education or healthcare. These people have left everything behind, they have nothing left and it is heartbreaking the west is closing its doors. Refugees should be treated humanely.”

Aqeela Asifi in continuing her relentless work for promoting girls’ right to education. You can read more about her work from the UNHRC page.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson





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Tahriib – The dangerous journey to Europe

In News by Anna Gustafsson


Researcher, Dr. Nimo Ilhan-Ali has just finished her PhD at SOAS University of London. Her thesis was on higher education in Somaliland, but she has also studied young people in Somalia and their opportunities and challenges there. Almost half of the Somali population is under the age of 15. However two third of young people are unemployed. There are increasing opportunities for studying in the cities, but good education is largely private and costly.

Researcher Nimo Ilhan-Ali describes how many Somali youth feel stuck in their life: even with an education, it is still difficult to find work. To be able to marry and start a family, work is essential. Expectations and reality don´t match. At the same time the social media might be full of pictures of Somali diaspora who have started a new life in Europe.

Thariib is an Arabic word that is associated with emigration of young people, mostly men, to Europe in the hands of human traffickers. Many young people see this as an option to escape the dim reality. Contrary to the common way of thinking, young person often makes the decision to leave for Europe alone and quickly, says Nimo Ilhan-Ali.

“The smugglers operate quite openly and everyone knows how to reach them.  Families are unaware of the decision that the young person makes”, Ilhan-Ali adds.

The smugglers operate on leave now pay later –regime, but along the way magafe, the human traffickers will hold the youth hostage and the family will have to pay ransom in order to free him. Many families are thus forced to sell their house, or lend money to pay the smugglers.

“The young person does not think about this. He thinks that through kinship the money will be raised”, Ilhan-Ali says.

A journey full of risks

The distribution and emigration of Somalis started after the collapse of the regime in 1990s. Large number ended in other African countries. Many are still displaced within Somalia. Tahriib, the emigration of young people is considered a national problem in Somalia, and campaigns are run in order to prevent it. The costs of tahriib to the families are significant but the journey is also potentially dangerous.

“Initial cost of leaving is small. But for me, having been raised in the diaspora, I think forget about money, you could potentially die in this journey, is that not high enough cost?” Nimo Ilhan-Ali asks.

“But the Somali young think that they could stay in Somalia and still die.  They think that you die the day you are meant to die, because they are Muslim, the day of death is determined already. They think about the benefits: Western education and a western passport that allows you to move freely.”



Researcher Nimo Ilhan-Ali emphasizes that there are good news from Somalia as well: there are choices in education in many fields. Still the government does not have enough to give to the young, says Ilhan-Ali. The youth is not part of the decision making and they don´t hold power. To be part of the society, work and education opportunities would keep them in the country. Ilhan-Ali adds, that as long as the youth don´t have opportunities they crave, they will keep leaving, and making the entry to Europe harder does not keep them away.

“In long term it is about making a young Somali person feel useful in the Somali society, they need to have a role play. When you are young in Somali society you are expected to do very little in terms of decision making and power. The young should have a role to play in the government. This is good strategy to keep them in the country. Also needed are jobs where someone pays them.”



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With beatboxing I can make people happy

In News by Anna Gustafsson

My name is Ahmed Alalousi and I am 24 years old. I am from Mosul, Iraq. I am a photographer, videographer and a beatboxer. I studied media in university in Mosul. Photography became first my hobby, then my profession and passion. I got into beatboxing after watching videos from Youtube with my friends. First I was just copying and it took me a month just to learn how to do the drum and base. Now I have my own style. We started to do beatboxing together with my friends and put together a band. We started to perform together.

Even before the Isis came to Mosul, I had received threats. I worked in media, and was active in social media so people in the city knew me. Some people also did not approve beatboxing. They started to tell me to change the things I wrote. When Isis came to Mosul, I went hiding. They took a lot of my friends and killed many journalists. This happened all the time. All the time my life was in danger. Finally Isis captured my brother and tortured him to find out where I was. They took our family home and everything we had. We could not stay any more.

We drove more than two days in war areas in Iraq and we were in great danger. We arrived in Turkey, where we stayed for a few months. We started to look for smugglers who could take me to Europe. My family, my mother, father and my brother with his family stayed in Turkey.

I almost drowned when crossing the Mediterranean. It was very dangerous. But I made it and came to Greece. I came to Finland in September 2015. Good things happened to me here. I got work as a photographer. I have already had three exhibitions as a photographer here. I have gotten work, even if it not easy. I got residence permit five months ago.

I live in Tammisaari now. In Iraq we had seen with my friends videos of beatboxer called Lill Fill. I was so surprised when I found out he lives in Tammisaari! Now we live in the same city. When we met I took a picture and send it to my friends. They could not believe it. With Lill Fill we are really good friends now and I have learned from him.

I did not join the Refugee Talent Finland -competition to win. I want to show people that we refugees are talented people and can do many things. Art, music and photography are for me tools to communicate and connect with people. I am not nervous about performing, I just want to make people happy with beatboxing.

I call my family every one, two weeks. I don´t like to call more, because we cannot handle it. When I talk to them it brings the feelings back again and again and we cry. They cannot come here, and they cannot return to Iraq. Our home is gone and Mosul is destroyed by the war. I cannot visit them in Turkey, so I don´t know when we will meet. I miss them.

I am studying Finnish language at the moment. I am working all the time as a photographer and videographer. In the future I would like to study more and be a professional. One of my dreams is to become a cinema maker.

#RefTalentFinland – Ahmed Alalousi



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With my own company I feel I have accomplished something

In News by Anna Gustafsson

Sohrab Mohammad, 27:

I am from Kabul, Afghanistan. Everyone there works a lot, therefore I also got used to do different work from early on. In a tailor shop I worked first time when I was just 10 years old.

After arriving in Finland I had to start from zero. I was 21 years old. First I started language lessons, even though everyone here does speak English well. You can just imagine how hard it was to leave everything and start a new life from scratch in a new culture. At first Finland seemed really quiet, even a click of a spoon against the coffee cup made everyone stare. Kabul is full of people and noise. But I like the fact that it is peaceful here in Finland.

I continued language studies and did odd jobs. I got married and I have a family now: wife and twin girls aged five. I was thinking a lot about what to do, but came to the conclusion that dress making and sowing is something I already know how to do. For a long time I wanted to start my own business. I was searching for a suitable place from here and there. Close to my home is a mall, where there was a dress makers shop and a dry cleaner, run by a Finnish lady. I went to her several times to ask for advice where to find similar spot. She promised to tell me when she retires, she said I could take over.

I took over in April 2016. It felt great to start my own business. Many of the old customers of the previous shop are now my customers. Some have been surprised to see a man behind the sewing machine, as dress makers in Finland are mostly women. I tell them, that in Finland men and women are equal and do the same jobs.

As a entrepreneur I can never be late or take a sick leave. I have to always show up. I have responsibility of the business and the customers. If I promise that a clothing is ready at a certain time, I have to hold on to that promise. I am polite and friendly to everyone. I make sure to use time to serve everyone well.

My dream is to grow my business. I would like to hire workers, and maybe start another business. My wife is my best support, she helps me run the shop and helps with the account and other paper work. A lot of young people in Finland my age are not yet working. Also a lot of migrants that have been here long are not working. Sometimes I think how I managed to have a family and my own business at this age. I think it is because I have taken care of my life well.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson



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“I arrived a week ago”

In children, News, war by Anna Gustafsson

Leila, 15

”My name is Leila and I am 15. I am originally from Afghanistan, but I have lived most of my life, ever since I was very small, in Iran, in the capital Tehran. I have been in Finland for a week now. I was surprised to see so much snow here, and it is cold. Our journey here was so long. I am still tired. We didn´t fly here, we walked. We walked so so much and so long.Read More

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Meeting point café

In News, police by Anna Gustafsson

How many police officers there are in Finland? Is it possible for an immigrant to become a police in Finland? There were many open questions, when the Helsinki Police department police officers jenni Mutikainen and Anne Verlin came to introduce their work in an international meeting café.Read More

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Habiba Ali: Everyone can make a difference

In News by Anna Gustafsson

Habiba Ali, 29. Cordinator at Finn Church Aid Reach Out -project:

I am inspired by…

Meeting different people and hearing their stories. My mother raised us to always look for the good in everyone. Young people in general are very inspiring. We should give more voice to them. They are not only our future, but our present reality as well.
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