Assisting Ukrainians in Finland. Civil society as frontliner in migration crisis

The influx of Ukrainian forced migrants equally as all-European and local crisis challenged European governments. This crisis sheds light on how civil society deals with it navigating between governmental regulations and embodied knowledge of forced migrants.

ALEKSANTERI INSIGHT 5/2023 A contemporary national state is said to be too small to fix global problems and too big to tackle local ones.

Grass-root volunteers and representatives of civic associations are among the first who assist Ukrainians with reaching Finland, proceed with the migrant status formalities and settling. Among them there are Finnish, Ukrainian and Russian-speaking informal initiatives as well as professional NGOs and associations such as the Ukrainian association in Finland, the Red Cross, Hane Peace Ukrainian Association and many others. Easily reachable volunteers and care workers from civic associations quickly have become crucial mediators.

They navigate between the needs of displaced Ukrainians and the existing social and healthcare systems. First, assisting newcomers, activists and care workers collect valuable first-hand information about basic needs. Further they convert frequently hidden individual experience (embodied knowledge) of forced migrants into explicit and inscribed knowledge available for wider public and decision makers.

Second, civic activists transmit and interpret rules of the Finnish migration regime, and operation of social, educational, labor and healthcare systems. It takes time to comprehend how emergency services or access to health care specialists are arranged in Finland in contrast with Ukraine. Transmitting this information, non-state actors have to navigate between existing policy solutions (inscribed knowledge) and embodied knowledge of newly arrived forced migrants. This activity often involves adjustment of expectations both of displaced people and of social and care workers in the host country.

The work of professional NGOs and volunteers is not finished when forced migrants settle down and routinize their lives. Many services are outsourced to them by the Finnish Immigration Service and other governmental agencies. Reception centers are the crucial example here since 52 out of 107 unites (49%) are run by the Red Cross, in addition to private companies, municipalities and the Finnish Migration Service.

Reception centers provide accommodation, interpreting, social services and assistance in directing to health care, work and study activities. But moving to new place of residence, finding furniture, home devices or cloth, communicating with companies to rent own accommodation and other issues make Ukrainians turning to civic associations and volunteers. Contacting familiar non-state mediators is usually the first choice to fix a problem instead of addressing it towards social workers and officials.

Being solved on case-by-case basis, problems of displaced people remain invisible for decision-makers, unless openly voiced. The phenomenology of knowledge recognizes this as a part of the problem with the travel of embodied knowledge of forced migrants, the first-hand information about their needs, to relevant policy solutions.

One of the key obstacles is that bureaucratic knowledge naturally mismatches the embodied knowledge of displaced people. For example, the understanding of effectiveness of social and health care provision differs in the eyes of bureaucrats and forced migrants. Looking into networks of knowledge producers and users, including civil society is instrumental to understand how the embodied knowledge travels. And why does it fail to contribute to a relevant policy practice or regulation.