Thursday, September 24, 2015

"I was a refugee before" - a campaign in support of refugees in Finland

The humanitarian crisis sparked by a massive influx of asylum seekers to Europe dominated headlines, again, around the world after the body of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on Ali Hoca beach in Turkey. The crisis gave birth to campaigns by people of good conscience around the world to show solidarity with asylum seekers. One of such campaigns is the "ennen olin pakolainen" (before I was a refugee) online campaign in Finland. The social media campaign, which can be followed on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #ennenolinpakolainen, gives former refugees a platform to tell their stories and show what they have become.

A lot of negativity surrounds the humanitarian crisis faced by Europe. The negatives include outrageous statements by European far-right politicians like Finland's Foreign Minister and anti-immigration Finns Party leader, Timo Soini, who said he's not ruling out the idea of European countries prioritizing Christian asylum seekers over Muslims, and the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who claimed his country does not want more Muslims. The outrageously discriminatory rhetoric and the plight of asylum seekers stuck in a train station in Budapest for days dominated headlines across the world. But positive stories abound; stories that go to show that contrary to widespread misguided stereotypes about asylum seekers many of them integrate well into their new countries and go on to be responsible members of society.

The #ennenolinpakolainen campaign in Finland, according to MTV news, has been around for sometime but was brought to the fore again. The campaign's Facebook page states that its purpose is to show that refugees are not just numbers on a paper or a liability to society. Through the campaign former refugees tell what they do in Finland these days. The list of former refugees in the campaign showcase many people with a variety of skills and professions, including students, entrepreneurs, engineers, nurses, social activists and politicians - notably a member of Finland's Eduskunta (parliament).

Participants in the campaign, according to Yle, also include a bio-analyst and a former refugee who's set to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin.

My view

According to Ita-sanomat, the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign originates from Denmark. But to me it really doesn't matter where it originates from. It's a magnificent campaign that debunks archaic refugee stereotypes that still linger in modern-day European countries. Among refugees, like among any other group of people in society, there are hardworking individuals with dreams - dreams of becoming engineers, doctors, lawyers, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, teachers, police officers, just to name a few. Among refugees are people who could, if given a fair chance, become remarkable citizens.

Unfortunately, the narrative that refugees are a liability to society is popular albeit being prejudiced and baseless - as evidenced by initiatives such as the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign. Some bigoted individuals claim that Muslim refugees should not be welcomed because they cannot integrate. This is, without a doubt, false. Participants in the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign are largely from Muslim countries, and they're doing a good job integrating in Finland.

I've read many of the stories told by former refugees through the #ennenolinpakolainen campaign on Fcaebook and Twitter. Needless to say, many, if not all of the stories, are inspiring tales of talent, skill and resilience. Take, for example, the story of a refugee boy who moved to Finland at the age of 11 and now plays professional football and captains the Finnish U21 national team. Or the girl who moved to Finland at the age of 5, learned the Finnish language, went to elementary school, completed university as a construction engineer and now works for an international company. Or the story of the boy who left Somalia and is poised to become Finland's first police officer of Somali origin. Or the story of the young man who has lived in Finland for 5 years and is now studying in a university of applied sciences to become an aircraft technician.

Amazing stories.

Drawing from the aforementioned, it's short-sighted and somewhat narrow-minded to consider refugees as a mere expenditure or liability to society. They have a lot to offer if given a fair shot.    

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