We Need Empathy to Combat Racism in Finland

Through the depths of the Finnish winter, a small group of consultants were assigned a special task by the Justice Ministry. While the rest of Finland enjoyed Glögi and Christmas festivities, this team were preparing questions and workshops for a segment of the Finnish society.

In 2016, Finland accepted over 7,700 refugees under its wing and rehoused them throughout the country. As per many other countries throughout the world, Finland have been assisting refugees for over 25 years. So how are they going? The task allocated to these intrepid consultants was to survey the relationship between population groups in Finland, focusing on municipalities with reception centers for asylum seekers.

Janika Keinänen was one of the consultants working on the project, “We were investigating the relations between different groups in Finland and how they get along on a local level, she said.”The main focuses of the report are attitudes, security, relationships, and participation within seven different communities: Forssa, Huittinen, Lieksa, Nurmuärvi, Oulu, Tampere and Tornio.”

While Michaela Moua has lived in Finland almost her entire life, she still deals with racism personally on a regular basis, and she is not alone.

In each of the municipalities, the local media was analyzed to find out how the refugee situation was portrayed to residents. Interviews were conducted with 100 asylum seekers, and seven group workshops (one in each municipality) were conducted with residents to gather opinions. As well as this, 1,653 questionnaires were sent to residents within the regions. “We found the survey to be quite critical,” Keinänen said. Refugees generally felt safe and well treated in Finland, however a third advised they had received negative experiences.  “Much of the information backed previously collected data and has given a clear picture of the attitudes and relationships within the community.”

A positive discovery was that out of the people who feared refugees in the previous survey, 70 percent were now less fearful. Adversely, the amount of negative or fearful media coverage within the different regions was disappointing.

After analyzing survey results, the team have made recommendations to the Justice Department on how to improve relationships within municipalities. Several suggestions are: the media could provide informative journalism rather than fearful, creating open places within communities for people to meet and interact, and including multiculturalism in school text books.

Michaela Moua, the chair of the Southern Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations, thinks that the media, politicians and schools hold the keys to reducing racism in Finland. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

Chairman of the Southern Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations Michaela Moua has perused the report, “It’s always good to have research, especially when you’re talking about a subject so sensitive. Finland has been a multicultural society for a long time as we have Native Sami people, Roma people who have been here for 500 years and Muslims who fought in the war. But immigration is a fairly young phenomenon (in Finland) since late 80’s early 90’s.”  “There is work to do,” she said, “change is difficult and scary. Finland’s society is changing and becoming more multicultural, which I think is excellent.”

Moua feels the leaders and media have a lot of influence and therefore a huge responsibility. “They print ‘the refugee crisis’. Why is it a crisis, its people who fear for their lives wanting a better life for their children and families.” The push is for solution focused journalism.

While Moua, 40, has lived in Finland almost her entire life, she still deals with racism personally on a regular basis, and she is not alone. Many immigrants who don’t look like a ‘stereotypical Finn’ feel traumatized by multiple racist encounters throughout their lives. “How would you feel if someone tried to dehumanize you and make you feel like you don’t belong here. Telling you to go home, but this is my home,” Moua said.

It is the opinion of both parties that a change of attitude within the Finnish society is required and this must start with education in primary school. Empathy education is the key to creating an inclusive and tolerant society where we can all enjoy this beautiful country. The report which took from December 2016 to May 2017 to collate will be passed to the Justice Ministry as part of the Trust project.

However, this is one issue where each of us can make a difference.

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