A third of Finland’s immigrants live in Helsinki
Halal meat sells well in increasingly multi-ethnic Itäkeskus
Hodan Ahmed, 21, a sales assistant at the Mango clothing store in Itäkeskus, likes to hang out at the East Helsinki shopping mall on Fridays, which is her day off.
“There are many of us around here”, Ahmed says, referring to people of Somali origin. “I certainly meet friends.”
Previously Ahmed worked at the Mango store in Kamppi, where there weren’t as many immigrants. In Itäkeskus Muslim girls go straight for long dresses.
“They often end up buying coats”, Ahmed says.
Itäkeskus looks what the whole Helsinki region might look like some day.
Already now Helsinki is more multicultural than ever before. At the end of 2007 nearly a third of the people in Finland who speak a foreign language at home lived in Helsinki. The lion’s share of population growth in the metropolitan area stems from immigration.
Finnish is studied as a second language by 13.5 per cent of school pupils in Helsinki’s comprehensive schools.
Debate on immigration has ebbed and flowed since the municipal elections this autumn. Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen joined the debate recently, saying that he is worried about the poor education and employment status of immigrants.
In Itäkeskus immigrants are seen as one group of customers among others.
“I don’t have time to discuss business right now”, says Sehavet Erdogan, director of halal butcher shop on Turunlinnantie in Itäkeskus.
Two employees chop, weigh, and package beef and mutton that has been butchered according to Islamic rules. Although the pace is intense, the queue keeps growing as the front door opens and closes all the time.
The Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha is celebrated on Monday.
“My husband is from the Philippines. He is preparing food for a slightly bigger Christmas party”, says Heli Raitanen as she puts a large cut of beef in her shopping bag.
“There always seems to be a hurry here. Often all of the meat is sold out.”
There are plenty of Muslim customers in Itaäkeskus for Erdogan’s store. Many immigrants live in rental housing in the northeast of Helsinki and Vantaa.
In Espoo, immigrants have gravitated toward communities that have grown up around commuter railway stations.
However, Finland does not have the types of suburbs familiar from many other countries, where between 80 and 90 per cent of residents are immigrants. For instance in Jakomäki, about 35 per cent of residents are foreign, or have a foreign background.
The tendency for nationalities to concentrate on the same areas is actually declining, according to Markku Lankinen, a special researcher at City of Helsinki Urban Facts.
“There has probably been a certain amount of adaptaqtion to the dominant culture”, he says.
Mayor Jussi Pajunen concerned about growth in immigration (2.12.2008)