Comment | Finns talk about immigrants, and we immigrants talk about Finns – for example like this

Eight last year I was an Iraqi immigrant in Finland.

I have been working since I came here. In Iraq I was a teacher, here I have been, for example, a job coach and coordinator for other immigrants.

My circle of friends now includes many Finns and many foreigners living in Finland.

When I see my Finnish friends, we might talk about what it’s like for immigrants in Finland. Or what are immigrants like?

Once in a conversation with my Finnish co-worker, the question came up as to whether he thinks “immigrant men” have something in common. He thinks it is: these people want their wives to be housewives only.

I wasn’t surprised by the answer, per se. Certainly there are men among immigrants who want their wives to be housewives. But that everyone would like it?

I know from social media posts that there is also a perception in Finland that immigrant men do not respect women.

I believe that both immigrants and Finns have men who do not respect women.

Is of course, it is completely understandable that Finns talk about immigrants and make generalizations about them. When I see my immigrant friends, we often talk about Finns and Finland respectively.

What are we talking about?

Often from personal experiences in this country.

Dahlia is an Iraqi Kurd who arrived in Finland at the age of 22 in 2015 with his mother. His father was dead. Dalia had completed high school in Iraq and then a lower degree in laboratory science at the university. In Iraq, fatherless, brotherless and unmarried young women are particularly vulnerable to all forms of harassment due to cultural issues.

Dalia had hoped that she would achieve the freedom and independence in Finland that she was not allowed in Iraq. Dalia mastered the Finnish language and studied at a vocational school to become a nurse.

Dalia now has work experience in several healthcare units in Helsinki. The events he describes are not from one place.

In one department, Dalia was the only one who was dark as Iraqis typically are. One of the co-workers told Dalia to another nurse that she doesn’t like dark-haired and dark-eyed people.

People’s reactions could vary depending on whether she kept her hair open or closed or also protected, like when taking a sample. Once a patient asked where Dalia was from. Dalia replied that she was from Iraq. The patient said to Dalia: “You wear a scarf and you are a terrorist!”

Once, the patient got nervous when Dalia had trouble finding a vein. The customer shouted that immigrants are stupid and don’t know anything. He insisted on getting a Finnish employee.

One day, Dalia’s job was to call another hospital to prepare a patient transfer. He only had time to introduce himself when the nurse who answered the call started shouting that she wanted someone else on the phone, someone who could speak Finnish properly.

After hearing Dalia, it has often been commented that women from the Middle East are ignorant and stupid, and they don’t learn to work in the Finnish system.

Dalia tries to keep a positive attitude. He thinks that problems are experiences that you can learn from. But the experiences will leave you feeling broken. He didn’t feel accepted in his own country and, despite his wishes, he hasn’t been accepted in Finland either. At least based on the commentary.

Now he is happy that he has been accepted to a Finnish university of applied sciences to study bioanalytics.

As one on friday i went to spend the evening with friends. On the way, two Finnish men caught my attention. They were shooting a video outside. Or so one took pictures, the other made Nazi salutes.

When I got there, I told my friends about what happened. A lively discussion immediately arose from this.

Nobody was surprised by the Finnish men’s Nazi salutes. My immigrant friends expressed their experiences that Finns are racist in many different ways and with examples. That foreigners are not welcome in this country.

The reactions were emotional – sadness, despair, disappointment and anger – and my interlocutors did not hesitate to generalize racism and blame the entire Finnish society.

Imaginations are powerful. Even if there aren’t even practical examples of racism, the average Finn is still assumed to be racist towards foreigners and especially towards Arabs or those from the Middle East.

Is it’s a shame that the “us versus others” mindset only seems to be getting stronger.

When someone who has come to the country seeks help, rights, a place to study or just approval without getting it, he can genuinely feel that the reason is always racism. Although of course there are other reasons. There are general reasons that apply to everyone.

Rejections due to racism also happen, as in the case of my friend Dalia.

But it’s not always about that.

Even so, immigrants may already have the impression that certain officials, employers or places of study here are racist. If they are somehow rejected in these places, they can see no other explanation than racism.

When experiences are shared with one’s own community, others pass on the cases, perhaps adding emotional elements to them.

This is how prejudices grow, both among “us” and “others”.

I presented a question for my immigrant friends:

“What do you think about racism in your homeland, like Iraq and Kurdistan, where Arabs don’t necessarily like Kurds or vice versa? Where there is animosity between Shiites and Sunnis and so on? Where racism can lead to killings, kidnappings and persecutions?”

One of my friends replied that he doesn’t even want to think about Finland, where the principle of the rule of law would be as weak as in Iraq.

“Fortunately, this country is based on the principle of the rule of law.”

This answer raised questions for me.

Is this rule of law principle protected in Finland? Do we believe that here?

My colleague is Finnish-Somali. He helps the unemployed to train and find work.

He says that a Finnish employer once told him that “there is no point in offering Somalis”. The reason was that this company “doesn’t want” Somali workers.

Some Finnish job seekers hesitate when discussing their work situation and future with an expert with a Somali background. Customers doubt his ability to help because he “doesn’t look Finnish”.

Finns and immigrants have different labor markets. For now.

How about if immigrants didn’t feel that they were marginalized and far from active and vibrant Finland?

I hope that one day Dalia will also receive more appreciation and kindness as a nurse and bioanalyst in Finland.

I think we would all benefit from it.

The author is a journalist of Iraqi background who works as an intern at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences at Helsingin Sanomat. Text editing: Tuija Pallaste / HS

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