Somali population in Finland growing fast
Arrival of newcomers affected by security situation in Somalia and changes in Finnish immigration policy
At the beginning of the year Finland had 11,881 residents speaking the Somali language as their mother tongue. About three fifths of them were born in Somalia.
Nobody knows what the figures will show ten years from now.
In recent years the number of Somali-speaking people in Finland has increased by nearly ten per cent in a year. Some of them are asylum seekers, and some are people who have been granted residence permits on the basis of family ties, while many are children who were born in Finland
In the Helsinki region, about half of the growth in the Somali population involves children born in Finland.
Of the 1,180 Somalis who applied for asylum in Finland last year, 548 were granted a residence permit.
The number of Somali asylum seekers has decreased considerably this year, and if the same pace continues, there will be about 600 by the end of the year.
Nearly all Somali asylum seekers whose applications are approved apply for residence permits for family members as well. At the end of this year, there were about 6,000 applications for immigration based on family ties, says Heikki Taskinen, director of the immigration unit of the Finnish Immigration Service.
Handling times of applications have stretched from the legal requirement of nine months to more than two years. One application is filed for each family member.
In recent years 534 Somalis got residence permits on the basis of family unification - slightly more than half of all applicants. At this rate, there will be thousands of newcomers in the coming years.
It is hard to predict exactly what the future will look like, as there are many variables involved. The most important of these include the security situation in Somalia, and changes in the immigration policies of Finland and other countries.
The Immigration Service says that most of the adults coming to Finland through family unification are illiterate. Helsingin Sanomat asked Mervi Virtanen, head of immigration at the Ministry of the Interior, how their integration into Finnish society is to be achieved.
“We have teaching plans and training for adults who cannot read or write. However, more resources for education are needed already now.”
Somali-born social worker Mukhtar Abib believes that it is possible even for illiterate immigrants to thrive in Finland and get work, if there is enough motivation.
Abib believes that especially in need of encouragement are young people in danger of being marginalised, and housewives who lack language skills and education.
“I hope that women who work would speak to mothers who arrive here, and tell them that getting a family is not the only way to gain respect in the community”, Abib says.
Abib feels that there are two things that would make it easier for the Somalis to integrate: newcomers should be given more advance information on what kinds of conditions they will meet in Finland, and Somalis who live in Finland already should be enlisted to help them from the very beginning.
The Somali community in Finland is undergoing constant changes. Abib believes that the generation of Somalis that has been born in Finland is more linguistically skilled, and more open-minded than the previous generation.
With time, there can be some social differentiation within the community, as some succeed better than others.
Cultures gradually blend in with each other. Researcher Heini Lehtonen says that speech patterns of young Finns in the East of Helsinki already show signs of an indirect influence of the Somali language.
Abib says that many Somalis who have adapted to Finland are so accustomed to silence that a more loud style of conversation annoys them.
“Young people get to know each other at school and in military service. Gradually attitudes change when they notice that we’re all people in the same way”, Mukhtar Abib says.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Somali-born screenwriter depicts characters as individuals, not representatives of a race (10.5.2010)
Somalis in Finland 20 years: Difficult road to paid work (25.4.2010)