Somali culture in Finland

Posted on

sneakersFirst Somalis arrived in Finland in the early 1990’s following the country’s breakdown in the throes of the civil war. Most of them arrived from the former Soviet Union, where, as a result of close ties between the two countries at the time, they had been either studying or working.

Finland, crippled by economic recession, wasn’t overly welcoming to the new arrivals. Media kept painting horror images of massive flows of refugees washing over Finland. The way Somalis were portrayed in the media at the time and the way they were perceived in the society’s dialogue still haunt Somali population today. In the rather homogeneous Finland Somalis stood out for a number of reasons: the colour of their skin, their African background and the fact they followed a religion that was still largely unknown in Finland.

The first wave of refugees comprised of individuals that were highly educated, but the next wave brought to Finland those less fortunate. Many couldn’t even write or read. In addition to annually allocated refugee quotas Somalis have arrived in Finland both as asylum seekers and through family reunification procedure.

As a result of the changes introduced in the family reunification process at the beginning of 2010 the persons applying for  the reunification are those left behind, not the person residing in Finland. Since the nearest embassies where the application process (including the interviews and DNA-tests) is carried out are located in Kenya and Ethiopia, family reunification has become virtually impossible. In order to file an application one first needs to travel to one of the neighbouring countries – something that requires both money (that many don’t have) and legitimate travel documents (which for Somalis are impossible to obtain). The  latest arrivals are part of a generation that have only experienced war in their lifetime.

In total there are about 16 000 Somalis living in Finland. Half of them live in the capital Helsinki area. Roughly 2/3 of them were born in Finland. After Russian and Estonian speakers, Somalis are the third largest foreign population in Finland. They are also the population that faces most discrimination and find themselves victims of racism-based crimes.

So what does this despised demographic value in Finland?

Same things as the rest of he population: peace, safety and just governance. They have also been active in founding associations that provide support, help, contacts and activities to engage in. Some are also engaged in charitable work and development cooperation building a better Somalia.

Some Somalis have since left Finland, either moving to a less hostile country or returning to Somalia. Some Finnish Somalis have even become prominent political figures in Somalia, in their work drawing inspiration from the stability and justice they’ve come to associate with Finland.

suomen_somalit_kansiDespite the fairly large size of the Somali minority their culture has remained poorly known in Finland. Suomen somalit (Finnish Somalis) is a recently published book that builds on its Finnish authors’ interviews with Finnish Somalis, aiming to give a concise view of what it’s like to live in Finland as a Somali. This ground-breaking book makes history in the whole of worldwide Somali diaspora as the first of its kind.

somalis-helsinki-featured-20131121In November 2013 Open Society Foundation funded a study on Somalis in Helsinki as part of series they’ve published on Somalis living in other European metropoles. The report (pdf) can be found here.