My thoughts and aims on how the City Council should improve immigrants’ chances to integrate in Turku

The text is written in English, as I know that all of the people that are eligible to vote are not proficient in their Finnish. Please ask me to clarify if you don’t understand something about the text.

Integration of immigrants

The integration of immigrants is in the interest of the immigrant and Turku. It is, however, impossible to speak about immigrants as a homogenous group. Immigrants include for example international students, those moving after a job or because of family reasons and those moving involuntarily due to various reasons. It is therefore obvious that all immigrants cannot integrate in the same manner, same phase and with the same support. The integration services of Turku need to take into account the needs and interests of an individual.

Any diversity questions must be considered through an intersectional perspective. This means that the city must take into account overlapping identities that might impact the way immigrants face oppression and discrimination and also how these overlapping identites might affect the way their integration process should be supported.

In research, the integration of immigrants is often measured by the level of their proficiency in Finnish or Swedish language, level of political involvement and immigrants’ employment. It is necessary that Turku becomes even more efficient in supporting these factors. However, it is equally important to improve the city’s capacity of supporting a sense of belonging and sense of community. One way that the city can support these is to create public spaces, such as libraries and community centres, where people from different backgrounds can meet each other in a casual manner. Also, it is important to provide spaces and support for immigrant associations and multicultural associations.

The city must take action to ensure that its spaces are safe for all people by tackling xenophobia and racism. The people who work for the city must be educated on this theme and how they can tackle xenophobia and racism in their own work.

The way that planning of the city can act as a way of improving integration has been discussed a lot lately. Many people say that there should not be suburbs where most of the residents have an immigrant background. My take on this is two fold. I think the City Council should ensure that planning does not increase the segregation of areas. However, I think it is important that all people can find a neighbourhood in Turku where they feel a sense of belonging. Studies show that many people with an immigrant background like living in e.g. Varissuo because of its multicultural ambiance and because they don’t stand out of the population there.

Instead of focusing mainly on the issue of segregation, it is important to focus on developing all of the suburbs of Turku. I think that the City Council should make an effort to improve the sense of community and distinctiveness of each of our suburbs. Not all of them have to be the same. However, all of them should be equally important to the city, and none of them should be left out when it comes to improving their services. All suburbs need services such as accessible public transport, community centres or libraries and quality institutions of education.

Lastly, the amount of undocumented migrants in Finland has grown since 2015. The situation is inhumane and unjust for the migrants. This is also problematic for the credibility of Finnish migration system. The solutions to this situation must be found on a national level and the topic is too wide to be discussed here. However, it is in the City Council’s power to decide, whether or not undocumented migrants have access to health care or not. In my opinion, undocumented migrants should have access to health care in Turku.

International students and job markets in Turku

There are lots of international students in institutions of higher education in Turku. Many of these students want to integrate in the Finnsih society and job markets. However, depending on the field of studies, finding a job might be almost impossible.

When it comes to integration of students, I think that it would be smart to have more degree programmes where the students complete bachelor and masters degree, not only masters. In Finnish universities, the students make most of their friends and connections in the first couple of years of the bachelor degree. This makes it difficult for the international masters degree students to get out of the “international student bubble”. Furthermore, the longer period of studies in Finland would improve the international students’ Finnish or Swedish language skills. The way in which degrees are organised is not in the hands of the City Council, but it is important that the decision-makers have a positive attitude towards bachelor + masters degrees that are taught mainly in English.

I am against the tuition fees of students that come from outside of the EU. The tuition fees hinder the integration of international students, since many of them face significant financial difficulties and therefore they must focus on working, not studying. The scholarship programme does not solve this problem, since the scholarships are not granted based on socio-economical situations of the applicants. Due to tuition fees the students that have to pay must finnish their studies right on time, and therefore the pressure on international students is significantly harder than on Finnish or EU students. Many international students that come from the EU also face financial issues due to high living costs in Finland.

The question about tuition fees is decided on a national level. However, the city of Turku can improve the situation of international students and all students by ensuring that there is enough affordable housing in the city. It is important that international students can find housing in TYS, the Turku Student Village Foundation. Turku must take into account the vulnerable situation of international students when planning and developing services.

It is in the interest of Finland and Turku that the students that have received their education here also want to and are able to find a job here. The city can boost the integration to the job markets for example by providing internships and internship vouchers so that the students might more easily find an internship in the private sector. The prices of language courses in adult education centres should be affordable so that students can improve their Finnish or Swedish skills in their free time or on summer courses.

Immigrant children and children of immigrants (so called second generation immigrants)

It is essential to ensure that adults that immigrate find their place in the society. I think that it is wise to put special efforts on the integration of immigrant children and also children of immigrants. I think that it is important that children attend the city’s early childhood education. Studies show that early participation in early childhood education has a strong integrative effect.

According to research, learning one’s own language supports integration to society. Turku is a big city and I think that it has the capacity to provide language lessons in the immigrant children’s native language. Learning one’s own mother tongue enhances learning of Finnish or Swedish. Knowledge in multiple languages is an asset in the all the time more global job markets.

When it comes to religious education, my aim is to have one common study plan for all students regardless of their own religion or lack of it. While this has not been achieved, I think that children should receive a well and formally planned education of their own religion in their schools.

The Green party has suggested launching a concept of “reppuraha”, which could be translated to “backpack money”. This means that students that need extra support at school or early childhood education also bring extra funding to the education institution. This would be a great way of ensuring that institutions of education have sufficient resources so that they can take into account immigrant children’s needs. Of course the backpack money serves also those children who do not have an immigrant background.

Conclusion

As I have mentioned above, it is not possible to speak about immigrants as a homogenous group. The needs of immigrants or people with an immigrant background are far from identical. Therefore the city must be able to face these people as individuals. The City Council must take an intersectional approach to diversity.

Furthermore, I think that improving the city’s services in general serves also immigrants or people with an immigrant background. This is true when considering for example the accessibility of mental health services or developing the support that children get at institutions of education.

Turku is a big city with huge potential to integrate new residents that come here from various countries and cultures for various reasons. It is embedded in the concept of integration that also the local community changes when the immigrants integrate in our society. Turku has through its history been a vivid city that has had residents with various backgrounds. It is important to remember that the multicultural history of Turku has made it the city that it is today.

About my competence in this area

I have required knowledge about this theme in my university studies and in varying positions of trust. I wrote my Law degree thesis on migration law and asylum law. Additionally, I completed a study module of 25 study points about multiculturalism in the Faculty of Social Sciences of University of Turku.

In the years 2015 and 2016 I was a volunteer in an asylum seekers’ reception centre. During that time I was also in a position of trust in the Southwestern scout district of Finland, where my aim was to improve the diversity of scouting. In the year 2019 I was on the Board of the Student Union of University of Turku and my area of responsibility was international students and international affairs.

Please contact me via social media or via my website to discuss how you think the City Council could improve integration of immigrants in Turku.