You give this job an inch and it takes a mile

In 1985, I was a young trainee of social work at the City of Espoo Social Welfare Office. At that time, the first of the refugees had arrived to capital area and some Vietnamese became my customers who were then called boat people. Dangerous journeys over the sea were often a part of fleeing. Many people drowned and some of the luckier ones were saved from the sea.

I still have vivid memories of feeling confused. How can we get on with these people when we do not share a common language. We did not know about having an interpreter at the meetings with the customer and I do not even know whether there were any interpreters then. Later on, working with an interpreter seemed like luxury compared to the first experiences. A good interpreter makes it possible to have a good meeting and is irreplaceable in many situations.

During the last 20 years, many languages and cultures have become more familiar. Sometimes you can miss the tone of a certain language even if you do not understand any of it apart from a word or two. It is also a happy event when a person whose affairs have been sorted out with a help of an interpreter is met in town and suddenly we can talk in plain Finnish. The best moments of all are those when you notice that people do survive. The changes of life are severe, but luckily so many have the strength and the ability to survive, rain or shine.

Jaana Suokonautio, suunnittelija Keski-Suomen TE-keskus

During 1991 – 2001, I was mostly working as a social worker in Muurame and then later on in City of Jyväskylä. In 1992, Muurame received 15 Kurdish people and in the autumn of 1990, the first groups from Iran came to Jyväskylä. At first, our office in town was called Refugee Office, then it was Immigrant Office and nowadays the same office is called Immigrant Services. The change of the name indicates how at the beginning, the customers were only refugees that had moved to Jyväskylä, but later on, there were also other immigrants. In my work, I still work with immigration, but since 2001, I have been working at Central Finland Employment and Economic Development Centre (T&E Centre). T&E Centres are state offices that work under the Ministry of Labour, for example, in the field of employment administration and they direct the work of employment offices in the district.

T&E Centre has discussions with the districts of Central Finland on how many refugees the districts will take in and it pays them the state compensation. The district can get calculated compensation according to the age and quantity of refugees that have arrived during a three year period. The districts are also paid compensation for the expenses occurred from Income Support during a three year period and compensation for special health care and child protection expenses from a ten year period as well as compensation for interpreting expenses.

T&E Centre works in cooperation with all parties that are working in refugee and generally in immigrant reception work and they work along in development work, for example, in different projects. Jigsaw (Palapeli) is T&E Centre’s own project that is familiar to many immigrants as their first study place at Kumppanustalo.

The reception work has changed a lot during the past years. Mostly the changes have been positive ones. Before, you might have had to, for example, wait even for six months for the first change to study Finnish language and it seemed like time moved on painfully slow for a lot of people. Nowadays, there is plenty of training that is a part of integration and it is quickly available even though there is always room for improvement in dividing people into groups as well as in materials and methods. The biggest hurdle has been, however, moving forwards to occupational training and into working life after the initial training.

For now, I wish for all the people that have moved to Jyväskylä same as all other members of this community, enjoyable work, study and possibilities to take part in all of the activities that interest you in your new home country. Especially in Jyväskylä, now is the time at last to get an international meeting place where people from different countries can meet each other as well as people from other countries and those who have lived in Jyväskylä already for longer. The planning work has once again started. Now we need community spirit, work contributions from different parties, some good financial decisions and a little bit of luck to make the place a common ground for activities where everyone would enjoy being and get new knowledge and experiences. We have a lot we could share, but to get to know each other, we need common space, meetings and something we can do together.

Jaana Suokonautio
Planner Central Finland Employment and Economic Development Centre
Käännös: Keski-Suomen tulkkikeskus