“Once you get papers, you become a real person”

The graphic is by the Finnish Immigration Service, available here: http://www.migri.fi/download/57705_2014_tilastograafit_en.pdf?c97a94c6f234d288

The graphic is by the Finnish Immigration Service, available here: http://www.migri.fi/download/57705_2014_tilastograafit_en.pdf?c97a94c6f234d288

0.03% of the world’s refugees live in Finland. You wouldn’t think that from the way the issue gets portrayed by many Finnish politicians and in the local media, but numbers are pathetically low. In 2014 for instance, 1 346 individuals received asylum in Finland, while another 1030 were accepted under the country’s refugee quota system.

These are some of things I learnt at a workshop organised by the Finnish Refugee Council last week. Established in 1965, the organisation supports refugees and immigrants in Finland, as well as refugees in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Thailand.

I’ve decided to volunteer with the Refugee Council to combat what appears to be a rise in negative attitudes towards foreigners in Finland, as well as counter the spread of what can only be called misinformation about the extent and type of immigration to the country. As a first activity, I look forward to welcoming Liberian Cucu and his Kenyan wife Gloria for a meal to our house as part of a multicultural exchange.

There are now over 50 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. That’s the highest level of displacement ever recorded. The three top origins for displaced people are Afghanistan (2.56 million), Syria (2.47 million), and Somalia (1.12 million). That’s a lot of lives put on hold, people stuck at camps and in uncertainty and boredom.

Rita used to be one of them. Having fled the Rwandan genocide as a teenager, she spent time – sometimes in hiding – in the Congo, Kenya, and Senegal before being accepted as a refugee in Finland as part of the official quota. When she told us her story at the Refugee Council workshop, she described the moment she received official identification papers ahead of travelling to Finland: “Once you get papers, you become a real person.”

It’s evident Finland can’t offer a home to all of the world’s refugees. But clearly we can do more. After all, 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries with significantly less resources with which to offer the displaced safety from persecution, conflict, and violence. One in every five people in Lebanon today is a refugee.

And the fact is, recession or not, more immigration into our small northern state is actually good for us. Apart from the many benefits deriving from learning about and living among other cultures,  research conducted by OECD in 2013 showed that, fiscally, Finland benefits more from immigration than it costs. I wish that was something that featured more prominently in the public debate, especially as we head towards the April elections with the xenophobic Perussuomalaiset party predicted to get around 15% of the vote.

In Helsinki, foodies eat at Streat.


Street food is alive and well in Helsinki. Not only is the city the home of the now global Restaurant Day phenomenon, this week it also hosted the second Streat Helsinki, a celebration of street food and its role in the city.

Over the weekend, the event culminated in 64 food trucks and street kitchens setting up shop by the Senate Square and harbour, bringing everything from oysters to moose to the city’s foodies. After a mouth-watering tour around the festival area (in an unfortunately cold wind), I opted for a pike and crayfish slider with a Laitilan blood orange soda courtesy of Liesikiesi . Definitely a good choice. But with another 63 options, I may have to go back tomorrow… You should too!







Filling a vacuum: Efforts to map and enumerate Lilongwe


My latest for urb.im looks at how civil society actors in Lilongwe are generating their own maps and data to understand urban poverty due to a gap in official statistics. Initiatives include participatory community mapping efforts as well as an open geospatial database. But more could be done.

You can read the article here, and join the discussion on visualising poverty around the Global South here.

Completing the clothes drive.


Following a busy two days of picking up and sorting clothes donations for victims of the Malawi floods as part of the #GetInvolved4Diginity campaign, we today handed over the catch to the Malawi Red Cross. The generosity of Lilongwe’s residents, both local and foreign, netted three large cars full of clothing, shoes, toys, and medical supplies. Donations came from embassies of countries near and far, several international organisations, and a number of unaffiliated individuals. On receiving the donations, the Red Cross representative commented that the goods were particularly warmly received as they were coming from individuals, “people like us”. The organisation is now responsible for delivering the goods to those affected. Most likely, the donations will leave the organisation’s office within the week, and be distributed to affected households in the areas of Nsanje and Chikwawa.

Promoting entrepreneurship to combat youth unemployment

Photo courtesy of Chance for Change, a UK-based NGO operating in Malawi.

Photo courtesy of Chance for Change, a UK-based NGO operating in Malawi.

My latest article for urb.im looks at youth unemployment in Malawi. With half of the country’s population below 18 and a fifth in the age bracket 15-24, the lack of decent jobs for young people is increasingly a problem. Read the full article here and join the discussion!

#GetInvolved4Dignity – Join the Malawi floods clothes drive

floods image Malawi Floods. Displaced women and children arrive at Sekeni II Camp for flood victims in Chikhwawa District. (Jan. 16, 2015) Photo by Arjan van de Merwe/UNDP licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The recent floods have taken a devastating toll on Malawi. It is the poorest of the poor that are the hardest hit. Families displaced by the floods have lost everything. And they did not have much to lose to begin with. The emergency response is ongoing, and help is reaching those affected. Reports are however coming back of various challenges linked to the fact that many of the displaced have only one set of clothes which has to be washed and hung to dry overnight.

While significant efforts are going into addressing the overall situation, there’s something easy we can all do, as individuals, to help restore the dignity of those affected: donate unused and unwanted clothes to the victims. The Red Cross has also indicated that there is a need for pots and pans.

We are asking development partners, the diplomatic community, UN agencies and NGOs in Lilongwe to join us in a clothes drive.

Please let us know if your embassy or organization would like to be part of the clothes drive. The clothes will be picked up from your office on Monday 17 February or Tuesday 18 February and delivered to the Red Cross. The Red Cross will ensure transportation to affected areas and those in need.

Please get in touch with Nora Lindstrom if you would like to contribute to this effort. Nora can be reached on 099 336 7559 or email: noralindstrom(at)gmail.com

Please note that the clothes drive is organized as a private initiative and is not a project of the UN or any particular organization.