Immigrants are still aliens

Nowadays immigrants and their problems are often in the headlines. The discussions are surprisingly homogenous and generalizing. Prejudices created by media dominate, for few Finns actually know any immigrants.

The café is full of students. Saida and Suado are also sitting there. The girls will graduate next spring as practical nurses from Helsinki Diaconia College. Both of them speak fluent Finnish and have been living in Finland almost half of their lives.

Saida is laughing almost all the timeThat is about all they have in common. Saida, 19, has had all her education in Finland from the first grade. "I enjoy the company of Finnish people, more than the company of foreigners", she smiles. In fact she smiles almost all the time and whirls restlessly in her chair. "Everybody says that I am the joy of the class. I am laughing all the time."

Suado, 30, on the other hand, is vary behind her scarf and asks a lot of questions before answering any. Seven children and a Somalian husband are waiting at home.

Jobs are hard to get

What kind of plans do the girls have for the future? They both want to continue their studies to become nurses, because then it is easier to get a job.

Work has been a lot in headlines recently. In the future there will most likely be a shortage of labour force, which, according to the Ministry of Labour, would affect particularly the social care, services and industry. The labour force from outside EU will play an important role, for a big part of population will retire at the same time in all of the EU countries.

But the prejudices of Finnish employers against the immigrants are as high as ever at the moment. The girls' stories are grim.

"Everything goes well until they ask where I come from, as my name is strange here. It is not enough to say I'm Finnish, they want to know where I was born", Suado says.

Somalia is a wrong answer for the employer. Even if they have already promised the job, the conversation will stop at "I hope you will find some other place". Another problem may be the scarf. "They fear it may be infested with bacteria", Suado says.

Saida is optimistic anyway. "You are hired on the basis of your skills, right?", she asks. Suado does not agree. An immigrant will be hired only if there are no Finnish applicants.

If the girls cannot find work in Finland, they are dreaming about Dubai. London would be OK, why not Norway. The most important thing is to have a job, they say.

Abd-Ennour likes being a bus driver

Abd-Ennour likes being a bus driverAbd-Ennour, from Algeria, likes to be in Finland, and doesn't feel like a foreigner. "You may feel alien in your home country too, if you are not respected. In Finland I am respected", he says.

13 years in Finland, and Abd-Ennour is like any other Finnish man in his thirties. He has a wife, two small sons and a job as a bus driver in Helsinki City Transport (HKL). He admires the Finnish nature and peacefulness. He wants to work for Finland to make it a better place.

"It's important to get a job, that way you get into the society", he says. He has been lucky, for he enjoys the work of a bus driver. HKL is a good employer and its fun to talk with people. "And if the people don't talk to me, it is not because of me but because they don't like to speak to each other either", he smiles.

But he hopes that there would be also other jobs available for immigrants than driving buses or cleaning. There should also be more education, especially in Finnish language.

"The Finnish language is very important. The language is the key into the culture, you cannot do anything without it, you cannot participate in society", he says. In his time he had a six months course in Finnish language and culture. The course was good and practical, but too short.

People are respected in Europe

Abd-Ennour has one wish. He hopes that the Finns would understand that foreigners are humans and would respect them.

"I wish the Finns would not think that the foreigners are here looking for a paradise or that they are unable to understand anything. Everybody has been something in their homeland, they have had a life. The life could have even been better, but sometimes there is no other possibility but to leave. Maybe they wanted to live, to be free."

"In Algeria we have all the same things as here - fancy buildings, discos, blonde women. They are not the reason we are here, but because here you have human rights, the freedom to express your opinions, equality", Abd-Ennour emphasizes.

Although foreigners are having difficulties right now, Abd-Ennour wishes things would change for the better. In central Europe people are already more used to foreigners, they are not afraid of them anymore. "The Finns are afraid of us until they learn to know us. I try to show them that I am one of them."

Abd-Ennour came to Finland years ago to meet his friend. After meeting his wife here, Finland became his destiny. The insecurities in Algeria began later.

In this time the atmosphere in Finland has become much more tolerant. "I believe, that with time, little by little, things get easier for our children. They bring colour to this country."

Viivi Handolin 28.4.2003