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MoniNet works for immigrant integration into Finnish society

Week against Racism begins today

Published : 18 Mar 2019, 11:07

  DF Report by Ben Espinola

File Photo Xinhua.

The Week against Racism will be observed in Rovaniemi as elsewhere in the country and other parts of the world beginning on Monday.

The Finnish Red Cross in coordination with the United Nations will hold the week that will cover the observance of International Day of Racial Discrimination, observed on March 21, and various other programs.

The programs include discussions, dialogues, awareness campaigns of the creation of an inclusive atmosphere, projection of positive images, stories, friendship and meetings.

The city of Rovaniemi has a sizable immigrant population with 2.4 percent of the population being foreign-born as of 2016, according to statistics from the Center of Expertise in Immigrant Integration, which offers several services to help newcomers with integration into the Finnish society.

An organization called Multicultural Center MoniNet, set up in 2001, offers a variety of services to immigrants and helps them to better integrate into the Finnish society. It also helps refugees in their efforts to lead their lives here by helping them with finding a job, using online banking, filling out forms, applying for citizenship, etc.

The Multicultural Center MoniNet serves an important function in fulfilling the goals of the forthcoming Week against Racism by providing a place where people of all cultural backgrounds can meet and engage in fun and culturally-enriching activities.

It also offers voluntary courses in the Finnish language and culture and holds numerous events to facilitate interaction between immigrants and local Finns.

The center is funded through a combination of funds from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the City of Rovaniemi and the Rovaniemi Church Congregation.

Juha-Matti Ristiharju, an instructor at the center, said that MoniNet aims to help immigrants to improve the quality of their daily life in Finland and to provide a safe space for people of different backgrounds to learn from each other.

“The main difference between us and social services is that we are not considered to be the official authority. We don’t make any decisions. We just provide help in everyday affairs just as a Finnish friend would do,” Ristiharju told Daily Finland.

“Most of our events or trips are aimed at everyone…. Whenever we become part of some arrangement, say a visit to theater, we try to ensure that the people who attend are both immigrants and local Finns,” he added.

The center employs both ethnic Finns and residents of immigrant background who have been in the country for years. There are also a number of Finns who volunteer for MoniNet.

“From my own statistics, I see that we got people mostly from Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Russia. But we also have a number of regulars from places such as England, Australia, Estonia, Morocco, Spain, etc,” Ristiharju said, adding that people from more than 50 countries have visited the center so far.

The number of visitors to the center varies depending on the time of year, with more people coming in the summer than in the winter. Ristiharju said, “In a slow and short month such as December, when we are open for about a fortnight, we have around 200 people visiting us. But in a busy month, we have seen more than 700 people visiting us a month.” In 2018, 3,944 people visited the center and in 2017, it was 4,889.

Ristiharju said that one of the major challenges that the center face is outreach. Traditional marketing techniques have limited success because the immigrants speak many languages.