Improving integration through Nordic perspectives

By using the experiences of Finland’s Nordic neighbours and working with practical issues, the Come In! project has increased knowledge about integration. The three-year cooperative project will culminate in a closing conference at Think Corner in early November.

“I believe we have been able to contribute to a better understanding of posttraumatic stress disorder in Finland among those working with refugees in reception centres or local government.

“We have also focused on schools and organised several conferences for school staff in Finnish, Swedish and English on how to promote the inclusion of schoolchildren when they have just arrived in the country. Presenting examples of how things are done in the other Nordic countries has provoked a great deal of thought among the participants.”

This is according to Liaison Manager Robert Runeberg of the Swedish School of Social Science, who has been responsible for the content of the Come In! project. The above examples are some of the tangible results achieved during the project.

The project has concentrated especially on vulnerable refugees, for whom social inclusion is particularly difficult. These include not only traumatised individuals, but also women, children, the elderly and others at risk of exclusion.

The Nordic dimension has provided an important added value to the project. Those responsible have used their Nordic contacts and brought in experts from our neighbouring countries. After all, the other Nordic countries have conducted more research and acquired more experience in these issues.

“We have presented various methods for how society can support recently arrived refugee families, currently used in countries such as Sweden and Denmark. One of the Danish methods we have presented is MindSpring, used by the Danish Refugee Council. It involves group meetings for parents led by someone from the same immigrant group who has lived in the country for a longer time and can thus support the recent arrivals with parenting issues in Denmark.”

One of the unexpected but positive effects of the project has been the establishment of new immigrant organisations, which are now making their voice heard. This happened after two young Swedish refugees, Omid Mahmoudi from Malmö and Fatemeh Khavari from Stockholm, had participated in conferences organised by the project. Mahmoudi has established Ensamkommandes Förbund, a community for unaccompanied minors in Sweden, and Khavari has set up the Ung i Sverige (‘Young in Sweden’) network. Their examples inspired young refugees in Finland to organise themselves in a similar way.

A multicultural Helsinki in 2040

The final conference in November will focus on an interesting and concrete question: what will a multicultural Helsinki Metropolitan Area look like in 2040?

The conference will be opened by Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo, who will describe her vision of a multicultural Helsinki Metropolitan Area.

Successful integration requires investment on many levels. This is why the conference will also discuss the question from several perspectives, including urban planning, school planning, work against racism and various methods for ensuring everyone’s voices are heard.

To provide a different and inspiring perspective on how minorities can progress socially, a presentation will also be given on the social progress made by sexual minorities.

“The LGBTQ minority has made a fantastic journey from being an illegal subculture in the 1950s to becoming one of the country’s hallmarks – I’m of course thinking of Tom of Finland. It’s a great example of how an oppressed minority can thrive.

“The goal is for all other minorities to thrive equally, be heard on all issues and feel they are part of our society. And for social diversity to be viewed as a strength, and rightly so,” Runeberg adds.

Stockholm as a good and bad example

The Helsinki Metropolitan Area has an interesting advantage in its integration work because it can learn from the example of Stockholm in immigration issues.

Robert Runeberg explains how, after a visit to Stockholm, he understood that the Helsinki Metropolitan Area of today is largely as multicultural as Stockholm was in the early 1980s. If population prognoses prove accurate, the Helsinki Metropolitan Area will in 2040 be reminiscent of Stockholm today. The problems of segregation, exclusion, discrimination and parallel societies with which Stockholm is struggling today could have been avoided if people had recognised and understood what was happening in the 1980s.

This is why decision-makers can benefit considerably from copying the decisions that have proved beneficial in Stockholm and avoiding those that have had negative consequences.

“In a way, we can see the results of this development in Stockholm, but it’s more difficult to see the decisions which should have been taken there in the 1980s to make the city less segregated today. But these are precisely the kinds of issues we will discuss at the conference. I’m sure the answer will be to take small steps and make decisions every year that help prevent segregation.”

Runeberg points out that the problems in certain suburbs of Stockholm and Malmö have deep roots dating back to the 1960s and 70s. The suburbs were built as part of the Million Programme, a public housing scheme approved by the Swedish parliament to build a million new dwellings within a decade.

“The Swedish suburbs were already segregated at the time, not because immigrants lived there, but because poor Swedes lived there. Just as today, the crime rate was high, the education level was low, and unemployment was disastrously high.”

However, the future looks bright for the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.

“Local government employees and politicians in the area have long been aware of the opportunities and threats facing them, and have made sensible decisions. For example, instead of at-risk suburbs, we have a system of blended housing covering the entire area, and actively strive to strengthen schools in the most vulnerable districts.

“We already have companies in Helsinki with highly multicultural staff, who have helped the companies to prosper. They have contacts throughout the world and constantly bring in new influences. Intercultural encounters lead to the creation of new products and a creative atmosphere in the companies. We see the same phenomenon in schools, where international schools are considered creative,” Runeberg states.

A cooperative project

Come In! (Stig In! in Swedish and Astu Sisään! in Finnish) is a cooperative project established in February 2017 which will conclude in February 2020.

The project has organised 20 three-day conferences on the theme of integration. Films and other material from the conferences are available at The above site will be open for a number of years to come so as to benefit government staff working with integration issues.

A futures review titled “FUTURIC: The Multicultural Helsinki Region” will also be published in connection with the final conference at the University of Helsinki’s Think Corner on 8 November.

The project has been undertaken cooperatively by the University’s Swedish School of Social Science, Åbo Akademi University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning (CLL) and Folkhälsan Utbildning Ab (Folkhälsan Education). CLL has been responsible for coordination, while the Swedish School of Social Science carried the main responsibility for the content of the project. The project was funded chiefly by the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).