Saturday, April 17, 2010

Immigrant Advice Phone Line in Finland

It is no secret that many immigrants in Finland are in limbo - cutoff from day to day activities that make life more fulfilling and dignifying. Some argue that immigrants exclude themselves from the society by not learning the local language and clinging to their own cultures; Others argues that immigrants are segregated by racism and xenophobia in the Nordic country. Irrespective of the causes of exclusion of this vulnerable group, you would agree that Finland is taking some baby steps towards integrating immigrants. The recent launching of an immigrant advice phone line in Finland elucidates this assertion.

Upon arrival in Finland, immigrants and students find themselves in limbo for years. Given the fact that Finns are shy and not so friendly, many (immigrants) don't know where to turn to for basic information. Many rely on information provided by other immigrants. The obvious metaphorical question is - can the blind lead the blind?

I vividly remember my arrival for studies in the northern city of Rovaniemi in the Winter of 2006. The weather was totally unforgiving - with subzero temperatures and unprecedented snow. It got dark outside at 2:30pm - totally depressing for a student from a land where the sun always shines. As if this was not enough, I didn't have access to basic information - I could not find a post office or bank; I didn't have any emergency phone number; no information about public transportation - so I found myself biking in the snow. Above all, I didn't even know I had to register at the Local Register Office (Maistraatti); and guess what - I was an international student!

This is the story of the many international students and immigrants who arrive Finland every year. They end up spending years, trying to figure out things themselves because they know in Finland, they have only two options: sink or swim!

Looking back now, many questions linger in my mind - if an international student cannot have access the basic information he needs upon arrival in a country for studies, what about someone seeking protection from the State? Should immigrants completely rely on information provided by fellow immigrants?

Luckily, things are beginning to change. The Family Federation of Finland, a social and health sector organisation focusing on families, now runs a multilingual phone line, aimed at advising immigrants.

Immigrants can now dial a phone number and have all their questions answered. The service provides advice in English, Arabic, Russian, French and Finnish. This is good news for immigrants because they can now have their questions answered in a language they understand and by someone they can relate to. If a question cannot be answered, the operators do not hang up - they redirect the caller to the appropriate quarters. Immigrants can ask just about any question - about permits, work, housing, you name it.

Find details about the [long-awaited] service that provides answers to questions an immigrant in Finland might have - in a language other than Finnish, below:

Advice Line: 0207 401 160
Tuesday to Friday
10AM to 3PM (Services in English, Arabic French, English)
12pm to 3PM (Services in Russian)



No doubt, the multilingual immigrant advice phone line in Finland is a blow to the language barrier that shuts out many immigrants, and a major step towards the integration of the many immigrants in limbo. However, a lot more needs to be done.


  1. I'm amazed that you haven't already heard about Infopankki. It's an online service provided in 15 languages that cover all sorts of useful information that immigrants to Finland need to know. The novelty factor is that immigrants themselves are involved in orienting the development of the site, via a User Panel. See for the User Panel presentation (in English, if you scroll at the bottom).

  2. Thanks for the major contribution, Martin-Éric.

    I must confess this is the first time I'm hearing about Infopankki and I bet many immigrants in Finland don't know about it as well.

    I just visited the site! I must say it's rich in content. However, I think a phone line is always better than an online service because you get to talk to people and have the opportunity to raise concerns not addressed on a website.


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