Small things matter - lecture about refugees
It is the small things that matter
As an introduction to “The Week Against Racism”, the student group of the Red Cross Swedish section in Turku organized a lecture about refugees and their situation in Finland on Thursday 15th of March.
Monique Kastermans, who has been working as refugee counselor at the Turku reception center for 6 years already, came and gave an interesting lecture about her experience.
An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking international protection and permission to stay in a foreign country, some of them because of fear of persecution. In Finland there are about 20 reception centers, 10 of them are managed by the Red Cross. In these the government covers all the costs of action, but the Finnish Red Cross takes care of practically all everyday actions.
“It’s hard to really understand
what these people have been through.”
In the Turku reception center there is a transit unit, a group home for 14-16 years olds arriving without parents and a supported living center for 17 year old male applicants who’ve arrived without parents. For us young Finns who never have experienced war or persecution and who don’t get scared every time we hear an air plane or fire work, I think it’s hard to really understand what these people have been through.
Those people who are living in the reception centers aren’t just a bunch of faceless people; they are real persons with real stories. They are just like you and me. Imagine the youngsters in the center, who have gone through horrible things and then have to stay alone in a completely foreign country with no relatives, many times without the knowledge of what has happened to their families. Maybe 1,5 years after the official asylum application has been done, a positive or negative decision is made by the Office of Migration, although in several cases it takes much longer.
So, how is the daily life in the center? It’s not that easy. When people from different backgrounds are locked up in a small place for a long time, it’s impossible to avoid problems. In Finland there are many new rules to get used to. As many people come from countries that are collapsing, they aren’t used to separating garbage for example.
“One is celebrating and the
other’s life has just collapsed.”
In the reception centers there are usually two to four people sharing one room. It’s not unusual that one person gets a positive decision and the next day somebody else gets a negative decision. One is celebrating and the other’s life has just collapsed. This makes it hard to avoid conflicts.
Listening to Monique Kastermans, who works as one of the refugee counselors, you can’t but feel amazed about everything she does. Apart from such daily tasks as answering the phone and taking care of normal duties, she coaches the men’s football team, plays volleyball twice a week with the women and is in charge of the educational issues. That also means applying for further education for the people who haven't got a decision in their process yet.
She also provides a listening ear, which means that everyday psycho-social assistance is unavoidable, although she admits that the stories are so horrible that she prefers not to listen too much to them. The refugees have had to leave behind their own lives and everything they have known in order to survive. Many people have seen their loved ones die or suffer in conflicts; some have lived in refugee camps for a long time and the trip to Finland has been very hard for many of them.
“Some have the chance to
participate in different camps.”
One big challenge for the refugees is the integration in a completely different society, which means getting used to a very different kind of life compared to their countries of origin. The refugee counselors play an important role also in that process. During spring and summer there are also other activities to organize for the counselors. Some of the families and children have the chance to participate in different camps and that means that the counselors have to take care of the applying process. In summer, especially activities for the younger children are organized in and outside the reception center.
- I do feel frustrated sometimes, but it is the small things that matter. That asylum seekers are able to forget their problems for at least a few hours, that’s really important, Monique Kastermans says.
That’s the reason why the Turku reception center organizes several trips to Kultaranta every summer, where they have a picnic and admire the surroundings. It’s a very popular event and it’s sometimes hard to recognize the asylum seekers when they are in another surrounding than the center.
“On the weekends there are unfortunately
no activities for the children.”
Children are children anywhere and in all circumstances. They need to be able to laugh and play, no matter what they have gone through or what their current situation is. That’s why the volunteers are so important for the Turku reception center. At the moment there are several volunteers who are organizing different activities at the center. All activities take place during the week, but on the weekends there are unfortunately no activities for the children. There would also be a need for some activities for the summer vacations.
After the lecture Olivia Franck told about the work the Red Cross is doing and the opportunities there are to participate in the Red Cross’ work. By contacting her it’s possible to join the student group’s mailing list and get information about incoming events.
Want to get more information about how to for example volunteer at the Turku reception center? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: Linda Karvonen
Picture: Olivia Franck