Uusi kotimaa avautuu anna hakala syksy 21

New home country opens up when you explore together

No matter what part of the world they are from, people coming to Finland are puzzled by our endless forests, dark winters and light summers. Many are surprised to see how much space we have. Finland’s unique natural conditions are striking in the countryside. Most immigrants find their way to urban communities, following friends to a more familiar lifestyle. The countryside, however, has universal attractions to offer. Could it be that if you really want to become Finnish, you should move to the countryside?

Immigration is one solution to a sustainability deficit and a distorted care-taking relationship attributable to ageing. As for the vitality of rural areas, new inhabitants provide a long-awaited boost to regional economy. Entrepreneurs bring diversity to services, and even a village school may survive if new school-age children move to the area. Integrating immigrants into rural communities is not just an economic issue, however. Many cultural factors come into play.

Lack of competence is a major challenge to integration. On the one hand, more language skills and cultural knowledge are needed where immigrants are concerned. On the other hand, people receiving new arrivals often do not know how to meet new inhabitants and how to help them get started. Traditionally, village associations and other local organisations receive newcomers, and at best, they help the newcomers put down roots in the village and ensure that the new inhabitants’ skills are put to good use in the community. Lack of a common language and common habits make these efforts more difficult, but successful training also enriches life in rural communities. Immigrants are a boost to many villages.

Immigrants were targeted in the development projects funded by the EU’s Agricultural Fund for Rural Development earlier, but the need for project support grants took a leap forward in 2015. Currently, over a dozen integration projects are ongoing or about to be launched. In addition, immigrants are mentioned as a target group in several other projects. The Agricultural Fund for Rural Development supports primarily people who have already received a residence permit, i.e. people planning to put down roots in their new home country.

Common themes in projects funded by the Agricultural Fund for Rural Development include services and the use of IT in services and everyday life in general, communality, culture and creative industries, starting one’s own business, and hobby activities for children and young people. All these can advance immigrants’ integration.
The Agricultural Fund for Rural Development’s support for development projects can be applied for by communities, such as municipalities, associations, organisations and cooperatives. If you are planning a project, you are advised to contact an ELY centre or a local Leader group.

Finnish people’s relationship to nature opens up in the company of a ‘pilot’
Challenges posed to integration in rural communities include employment and the availability of training. In small communities, good cooperation between local players is necessary to meet such geography-based challenges. It can be done, but then there are the huge forests that appear strange and frightening, the dark autumns and the coldness, none of which encourage you to go outdoors.

In Fell Lapland, people have started turning fears and uncomfortable issues into well-being and comfort. “The lives of us living in Lapland are tied to nature. That is what we can offer”, says project coordinator Anna Hakala. Hakala is leading a recently launched project (Vastaanottava Tunturi-Lappi) the aim of which is to help people who have come with immigrant status to stay and put down roots in the Kolari−Kittilä area. “We will do our best to help immigrants feel at home. Not just to get a job but also to make contacts that will make them want to stay”, says Hakala, describing the aim of the project.

The project by the Union of Rural Education and Culture trains Finnish-born people of local associations to act as environmental ‘pilots’, to accompany immigrants outdoors into the natural environment and acquaint them with their new surroundings. “You may experience things differently when someone is with you showing their own way of moving around and telling you why the forest or the fell is so very important”, says Hakala.

Funding available for integration projects
Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (Ministry of the Interior)
European Social Fund (Ministry of Employment and the Economy)
European Regional Development Fund (Ministry of Employment and the Economy)
Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry)
Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (Ministry of Employment and the Economy)
Funding is also provided, for example, by parishes, different organisations (such as the Finnish Red Cross), the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, and RAY.

Date updated: Feb 17, 2020
Text: Annukka Lyra
Image: Anna Hakala