Returning home means return to roots

When Iraqi immigrants talk about returning home, they mean to a particular place: their home town or village. It is about roots and ancestry, about family.

Returning home means return to roots

Vanja la Vecchia-Mikkola noticed this when she interviewed Iraqi immigrants in Helsinki and Rome for her soon to be submitted PhD thesis. Vecchia-Mikkola gave an example:

—When I asked one person, ”where do you come from?”, he answered by showing me in Google Earth places in his home town that were connected to his and his family's life.

In her study, Vecchia-Mikkola compares the longing for return and integration of Arab and Kurdish Iraqis in Helsinki and Rome.

According to her, Iraqis' thoughts about return are connected both to memories about the past and to the present situation.

—For instance, they might recall what the Tigris used to be like and how children used to play by the river. At the same time, they might think about the many familiar places along the river that are now closed down.

Finland has taken a more centralized approach to the integration of immigrants compared to Italy. Finnish welfare is better, and there are more language and cultural courses available. In Italy, on the other hand, Iraqi immigrants are more actively involved in civil society through organizations, social centres and churches.

The majority of Iraqis interviewed by Vecchia-Mikkola in Helsinki expressed feelings of indifference and isolation. These emotions are rooted in external factors like the racism encountered by job-seekers, as well as traumatic experiences in their homeland.

Vecchia-Mikkola introduced her PhD research in the CEREN Colloquium held at the Swedish School of Social Science.

Text: Maria Niku
Photo: 123rf
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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