Housing-project Work Against the Clock as Reception Centers Close

Six weeks from now Nihtisilla refugee reception centre in Espoo, Finland will close down. Several refugee reception centres in Finland have already ceased to exist due to decreasing numbers of asylum seekers.  

The decision has created distress among the asylum seekers, many of whom have lived at Nihtisilla for five years. A significant number of the habitants either study or have applied for and received work permits, or both. Moving to other locations in the country will jeopardize their studies and employment, as well as the integration progress. Most of all it means leaving behind friends and a familiar network. 

It doesn’t feel right that they are being uprooted from the support network they have managed to create in their new home country to move somewhere where they have no chance to get a job or to study.

Back in January, when the news about the closure was dropped, 316 people had Nihtisilla as their home. Since then, the Espoo parishes together with NGO’s in the region have worked to help solve the housing issue. We give guidance in house renting to those who have employment and reach out to families willing with spare rooms to offer those with low income or no job. At the beginning of May, there are still many with an uncertain future, and our team are working against the clock. 

Mahmood being interview by Yle, Finnish news.
Mahmood Al-Taee stayed in a Finnish family for four years. It made his integrations process easier, he says. Here interviewed by Yle, Finnish broadcasting.

The housing project and how living with a family benefits the integration process has got a lot of media attention in Finnish national radio and newspapers. In an article by Olli-Pekka Kiuru published by yle.fi, Mahmood Al-Taee, who fled Iraq 2015, is interviewed about his experience. He stayed with a Finnish family for four years and says it accelerated his integration in Finland. He learned “how to do things right and learned the language fast”. His host, Janne Saarikivi, says having Mahmood live with his family gave him grassroots knowledge about the European refugee situation. He concludes life become more interesting if you are open. 

Last Friday we met the members of parliament Inka Hopsu and Hussein al-Taee to discuss the situation of the asylum seekers. Also Sanna Svahn from Espoo City took part. They were very keen on the project.  In past years the legislation on migration laws has tightened.  The new laws on migration with a more humane direction are almost impossible to pass in the Parliament. We were seeking mutual understanding about the situation. Members of the parliament took the initiative to create more human rights-based policies for the future.  This led to a complaint to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman about the Finnish Migration service’s actions, closing the refugee reception centre in Espoo.

Our project has created awareness of asylum seekers and their current situation.  In the current situation, asylum seekers are living in the reception centres for a very long time.  No one has been interested to find another kind of solutions for housing at the institutional level. It is very difficult for the asylum seeker to find a home and actively integrate into society.

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Tuija Samila is a priest in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. She is a happy and brisk world citizen. Defending human rights is important in her daily work, as are intercultural, ecumenical and religious dialogue encounters. Constant prayer and mysticism are close to her heart.

She is part of A World of Neighbours network.