Finland: Young refugees find a new home with SOS Children’s Villages
In 2015, more than 3,000 young people sought refuge in Finland. Some of them were still under the age of 14 and had travelled across Europe alone. Family group homes are an opportunity for them to enjoy a safe and secure home environment in Finland.
“When I arrived in Finland, I knew I didn’t have to feel scared anymore and I could finally go back to school. I want to start a family and make a good life for myself here,” says 16-year-old Arush*, one of the young refugees in the family group home. When he has time to himself, he writes rap lyrics to work through his experiences. His songs deal with topics such as war, refugees, religion and his feelings of homesickness.
“Parsa”, 15, from Afghanistan, also enjoys living in the family group home. He is now in ninth grade at school. In his free time, he likes to go to the gym like any other boy his age.
“If it weren’t for the family group home, I would probably be living in a huge reception centre somewhere. This is so much better because all the other kids speak the same language as me,” H explains.
He especially appreciates the family group home’s neighbours. “There’s a lot of rough and tumble and noise here, but our neighbours are so understanding. They always stop to say hello and ask how we are,” Parsa says.
A place of safety
In November 2015, SOS Children’s Villages Finland created a group home in Espoo, in the south of the country. It is now home to 16 unaccompanied asylum seekers from Afghanistan.
“The boys moved into our group home within a couple of days of arriving in Finland. At the time, our immediate aim was to provide them with a place of safety and security as well as a sense of being looked after. Not everyone shared a language initially, but luckily some of the staff spoke the boys’ mother tongue,” explains Mikko Ylisuvanto, director of the family group home.
The asylum process itself took just over a year, but all the young people in the family group home were eventually granted Finnish residence permits.
Everyday life in a group home
Everyday life at the family group home is not very different from any other home full of children and young people. Everyone gets up for school in the morning, and the afternoons are a particularly busy time with everyone arriving back home to have dinner. The young people take turns helping out in the kitchen. When they have finished eating, they often head back out again for their hobbies, extra Finnish language studies or to spend time with friends.
At the family group home, the staff treat the children as individuals, getting to know their needs and personalities. Rules are in place to provide a sense of security and a regular pattern to everyday life. There is a set bedtime for everyone and when the boys head out, they are expected to say where they are going. It is important that the adults take an interest in the children in their care and keep an eye on their comings and goings.
Growing with love, respect and security
“It is SOS Children’s Villages’ vision to ensure that every child has the chance to grow up in a family with love, respect and security. However, the parents of these young people are not part of their lives on a day-to-day basis. This very much defines the work that we do and means that, in many ways, we take on the role of foster parents,” adds Mr Ylisuvanto.
The purpose of the group homes is to ensure that refugee children see themselves as equal members of Finnish society and are able to acquire all the necessary knowledge and skills that will allow them to successfully integrate into Finnish schools, jobs and culture.
*All names changed for privacy protection
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