There are more refugees today than ever before in the history of our planet. Global challenges in climate, demography, economy and ongoing armed conflicts will speed up migration in the near future. This means that the number of refugees is growing and Finland is rapidly becoming multicultural. This is a fact no one can overlook anymore. 


Startup Refugees, a voluntary network of over 500 companies, communities and individuals, believes immigration is brain gain. They believe the best way to find your path in a new country is through employment and entrepreneurship which is done through matching job seeking refugees with companies, mentors and connections. In four years, they have provided work, entrepreneurship and occupational opportunities to over 5500 newcomers. 


Through intimate portraits and interviews their journeys, hopes and ventures of some of the newcomers are recounted. This project hopes to bring both professional and personal sides of the story to light and provide inspiration to other newcomers living in Finland.


Sara left Libya with her husband to Finland, in hopes of a better life with pre existing skills and experience from her academic life pursuing architecture, to then working with architectural companies, in which she did some designing at the Tripoli airport.

“I’m an architect, I graduated from the University of Tripoli and I hold 6 years of architectural design experience. The war and constant exposure to militia and violence in Libya brought me and my husband to Finland which I’m grateful for because of the high standard education and high quality of life here. I have a 3 month old baby now, going back is not an option, she needs a safe country to grow up in and needs to receive a good education. 


My biggest struggle right now is not having a residence permit(which I applied for over a year ago) which is restricting me from getting a job. I’ve applied to an endless amount of companies and organizations, but they all require me to have a residence permit regardless of my skills set and experience. 

But even not holding a residence permit won’t stop me from developing my life and career. If I can’t find a job in my field, I plan to do a masters in IT, and continue later to do a PhD. 


I hope to be famous one day to motivate people to make the most of their lives. My hijab is my culture and I’m happy to make the choice of wearing the scarf, this is where I find peace. People shouldn’t make judgments on appearance, you never know how much potential a person carries inside. I want to redefine the stereotypical image people have of Islamic women. Wearing a scarf and being a woman does not stop me from working, it does not stop me from studying, I can do whatever I want.”


“My parents had no money due to the economic crisis after the war in 1991; on my first birthday they could not get me a cake, but they still managed to use the little available resources to make me a cake out of macaroni. At the age of 16, my father was kidnapped by militia where we were forced to pay a high ransom, but like most times, their agendas were not to set those they held in captivity free, they only wanted our money. Until this day, we have not heard a word from/about him.”

Mustafa lived in Baghdad, Iraq, where he spent time between Iraq and Syria, facing many challenges with the political climate. Mustafa has always been a keen learner, teaching himself English, by watching English movies, learning musical production to produce his own music, and also working in IT departments. 


For a long time, life was great for Mustafa, he was making music in his co-owned studio and was part of a good community, however, the persisting militia added complications to his personal and work life. The kidnapping of his father, without getting him back after paying ransom added even more instability. Along with some of his family members, he was able to flee the country to Syria, where he got the opportunity to migrate with other refugees to Turkey in 2015. He then landed

in Finland, seeking asylum in Heinola. 


In search of something better, he explored Helsinki, and came in contact with Startup Refugees. With his CV, Startup Refugees were able to link him with a restaurant called Mad Wok, where he is currently working. 


Mustafa finishes off saying “We are all humans, just like you, you’re like me. For some of us, when we leave our homes and move to completely new countries, just like the country, we ourselves become new and have to start from zero. I didn’t choose to come here, I had no choice and I think more people should talk to us, get to know us better. For my fellow refugees, go look for hope. Life is hard, growing up in Iraq, I too have seen chaos, but chances and opportunities don’t come to you, you must always find a way to work for them.” 


Abdulrazzaq is a refugee in Finland from Iraq with a strong passion for welding. 

For a very long time, life in Iraq was great for Abdulrazzaq, he’s an experienced welder, he has received multiple certificates in welding and worked with large companies. “Things were good in Iraq, for me and my family. I worked with my father, he used to rent welding machinery/equipment to companies and we, along with brother built extensive pipelines from the city to the town we lived in, an hour drive away.” That same road is where Abdulrazzaq’s brother lost his life, while they were driving back home and “all of a sudden, we were being fired at. My leg was severely injured and I lost my brother. There was a dispute over the pipelines.” 


Being exposed to more instability, Abdulrazzaq fled to Turkey when there was a migration wave in 2015 where he then migrated over to Europe. Coming to Finland was easy and the challenges began after he arrived in Finland in 2016. After submitting himself to the police upon arrival, he was transferred to a center in Mikkeli. An old hospital that they transformed into a center for refugees which only provides them with accommodation. He shared a room, about 12 square meters, with 5 other people. They all received €300/month for groceries and other expenses. 


Since being in Finland, Abdulrazzaq has received a certificate from a welding training course given by Startup Refugees, but still he has difficulty finding a job. He has lots of experience and qualifications, but the Finnish language is a constant requirement. “Finnish is a very hard language to learn and when you have a lot of other problems, it makes it even harder to focus. My family is a constant thought and finding a place where I can settle. Here, even with a residence permit, you’ll still struggle finding a job. It seems like the only jobs that are offered are cleaning jobs, and not even companies that can offer full time positions.” 


Integrating into society for Abdulrazzaq has been a battle, as it is for so many who move to Finland. He says “people don’t mix here, but there’s a lot of people here who deserve to continue with their lives and to contribute to society. Just as they are human, I am a human too. All the things they have, I have too. Just as they have something to contribute to society, I do too.” Regardless, he remains grateful that in terms of food, living, and studying, Finland provides more than other countries.


Eman is from Jordan and has been living in Finland for 17 years and she is a chemist. 

If there is somebody who can body resilience, passion, and ambition, Eman must be one of them. Seventeen years ago, her husband received a job working for Nokia in Finland, and so they both packed their bags, left Jordan, and arrived in Helsinki. 


Before arrival, she had graduated with a bachelors in Chemistry and Eman had hopes of finding work related to that here in Finland. Her hopes have not died off, however it was not what she anticipated, it has been difficult to find jobs. Now, she teaches mathematics after school for students facing challenges around the subject. 


Eman is finding ways in which she can incorporate her knowledge to help other people in the communities she has found living in Finland. She would like to create thorough Arabic-Finnish translations to help improve the learning experience for other immigrant children living in Finland. 


Eman comes to show a great deal of dedication, she says “language is super important, learn Finnish, more doors will open for you. There are plenty of opportunities here, you just have to do the hard work, get your education.” 


Finding a job in her field may have been challenging, and still is, but Eman will not give up, she is still searching and simultaneously working hard with other jobs and motherhood. 

© 2021 by Carmina Ndahiro

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