Perspectives from INY’s Uusi Kotimaa tutuksi – Project (KoTu)
Uusi Kotimaa tutuksi -project (KoTu) was funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland, and coordinated by INY from April 2022 to April 2023. The project objective was to support the integration of migrant women by providing information about Finnish society and its welfare system, and how to navigate them and participate in them. This was done in the form of a 70h-civic orientation training. The project activities also included leisure activities and trips to various locations in the Helsinki metropolitan area. Additionally, project participants were offered individual guidance about various issues where they needed more specific personal support or tailored information.
Quite soon after starting the civic orientation course, we noticed that our participants were lacking crucial knowledge and information for navigating Finnish society and its bureaucracy. Having gone through state mandated integration processes and considering how long most of them had already lived in Finland, this was a surprise.
Furthermore, the discussions in the civic orientation course revealed how the lack of information significantly contributed to the participants’ marginalization. They said it was difficult for them to participate in Finnish society.
These discussions raised many questions about the Finnish integration process and where it falls short.
After all, integration is a crucial two-way process for both migrants and the dominant society.
We also discussed our insights at the final seminar of the project, where keynote speaker Joachim Vogt Isaksen and expert panelists Amani Bakri, Aziza Hossaini, and Farid Ramadan provided their invaluable insights on integration.
Isaksen emphasized the pivotal role of civil society organizations in creating networks and connections especially for recent immigrants, promoting new social relationships and employment opportunities, and strengthening their sense of belonging. Civil society organizations can further enhance the integration process by fostering collaboration among various stakeholders, including public administration and the private sector.
The panel discussion addressed various perspectives, emphasizing equitable treatment and more individualized approaches keeping in mind that migrants do not form a homogeneous group; as their unique backgrounds and personal challenges significantly influence their integration paths. Additionally, as the responsibility for integration is shifting to municipalities with the new Integration Act, it is recommended that municipalities offer more tailored approaches to integration, including follow ups.
The panelists emphasized the need for more individualized, client-centric approaches and support systems that go beyond regulatory frameworks.
These approaches allow evaluation of individual requirements and progress monitoring, taking into account elements such as their health and abilities.
Language proficiency was also mentioned as a crucial factor for integration and participation. The lack of language skills can have long-lasting consequences not only for migrants but also their children,who take on a parentified role as translators. In addition to ensuring holistic integration, language proficiency is crucial for supporting second generation children and youth.
Bilingual professionals can play a vital role here: they can assist with language learning and comprehension, and promote effective communication and understanding without rendering children in the position of interpreters or depending on phone interpretation.
Therefore, it is important that both organizations and authorities have employees and trainers who possess the necessary linguistic and cultural expertise to effectively support the integration process.
Civic orientation courses in migrants’ own languages were therefore cited as best practice. However, the panelists expressed concerns about how civic orientation can be implemented effectively without a drop in quality. Firstly, the content of civic orientation should be comprehensive and up-to-date reflecting changes in society. Secondly, competent and well trained facilitators ensure information is given and can tackle different questions and attitudes. Additionally, competent trainers are able to account for individual needs and challenges of migrants. They can provide tailored guidance to help them achieve their goals and better adapt to the new society. A good trainer’s understanding of different learning styles, needs, and cultural backgrounds helps them create a learning environment that supports participation and interaction.
With civic orientation courses becoming compulsory in the new Integration Act, trainers will hence be playing a significant role in Finnish integration.
Furthermore, the panelists acknowledged the vital role of civil society organizations, calling back to Isaaksen’s keynote. Civil society organizations can provide support, services, and valuable networks for immigrants. These organizations are particularly important for immigrants who may drop out of the current and future integration processes or progress slower as the Integration Act foresees, and for those whose mandated integration plans have ended.
The panel concluded by highlighting how Finland could build a more inclusive society by emphasizing fairness, individualized approaches taking into account diverse needs and backgrounds of immigrants.
Providing language support, implementing customer-centric integration plans, and strengthening the role of NGOs are essential steps towards a better future for immigrants and future generations in Finland. Through these collective efforts, we can shape a society in which everyone can actively participate.
You can find the Finnish language audio recording of the KoTu project final seminar via the Link below. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles available for now.
The recording covers the topics discussed in this article in more depth.
|Fatimzahra Sefiani The Kotu project coordinator|