South Asian population grows sharply in Helsinki region
By Teppo Moisio
"When I first came to Finland in 2002, my first thought was that I want to get back to India", laughs Naganna Vydyula, who works for the data technology company Wipro, which does subcontracting for Nokia. "I felt lonely in a strange place", he says in the company's conference room at the Innopoli technology park in Espoo.
Now Vydyula has lived in Finland for two years on a permanent basis. Loneliness is no longer a problem. His wife and two children have moved to Finland, and the Indian community is growing.
At the beginning of the decade there were about 450 Indians in the Helsinki region. Now there are more than 1,100. "Thanks to the success of Nokia there are opportunities for work, and the growing community is able to offer peer support in the practical arrangements."
The number of new arrivals from other South Asian countries - Bangla Desh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka - has been growing in the Helsinki region in recent years.
Since 2000, the number of South Asians living in Helsinki has more than doubled. The rate of growth is four times as high as that of the other immigrant population.
The South Asian minority nevertheless remains numerically small. At the beginning of the year there were 2,249 South Asians living in the Greater Helsinki area, out of an entire immigrant population of nearly 50,000. Bangladeshis number around 400, while there are some 300 Pakistanis and around 200 each from Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Officials can only speculate on the reasons for the growth. The IT industry is known to bring in well-educated Indians, but this does not explain the whole situation.
The more general explanation is that internationalisation is self-feeding: when the first arrivals have beaten the path, it is easier for others to follow.
Ram Prasad Aryal, owner of the popular restaurant Satkar, was among the first Nepalese to arrive in Finland in 1989. He set up his own restaurant on Lönnrotinkatu in 1998, and now he has eight other Nepalese working for him.
Helsinki's Nepalese population is a good example of how new arrivals follow the trailblazers.
"When we needed a good cook for our restaurant, we asked our acquaintances and relatives." Those who came to work on the basis of the recommendations arrived in a strange country, but among familiar people.
The South Asians are not a culturally uniform group, and they will not become one in Finland.
South Asian immigrants have not concentrated in any particular area in the Helsinki region; they live dispersed in different parts of the city.
Factors that unite them are found in the kitchen and on the sports field.
"Four new businesses have been set up here in the past few years", says Kasim Mohammed, proprietor of the Maharadja shop on Hämeentie, which has provided customers with Asian and African foodstuffs for the past ten years. He says that he has noticed that more South Asians have come. "There have been enough customers for all of us", he says.
There are many culinary cultures in South Asia, but in Helsinki they all buy their food on Hämeentie.
Meanwhile, on the Kaisaniemi sports field it is possible to see cricket players dressed in white like British gentlemen, with dark faces.
"Cricket brings South Asians together", Ram Aryal smiles.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.6.2006
TEPPO MOISIO / Helsingin Sanomat