Case Sweden – finding human-centred solutions

In April 2017, Anna-Kaisa and I visited the Linköping area in Sweden to interview experts working in the field of migration and to meet colleagues at the university. Finland is frequently compared to Sweden, whatever the issue, and migration governance is not an exception. Both examples of Nordic welfare states, Finland and Sweden are indeed very similar, but in migration issues, they are completely different.

The year 2015 created challenges in both countries, but in Finland the number of people seeking asylum was rather low (32 476), while the number in Sweden was nearly 163 000. A specific challenge in the Swedish immigration peak of 2015 was the fact that 35 000 asylum seekers were unaccompanied minors. In Finland, the number of unaccompanied minors in 2015 was 3 024.  Yet, it was in Finland where the system was overloaded and discussion overheated. There is no doubt that the situation was similar in Sweden where the period of 2015 and 2016 has been titled an “immigration challenge”. The notable difference is the way people see the situation now, afterwards. Our interviewees stressed the fact that they survived: “Yes. The situation was horrible, but we managed it”; “We decided that we will manage it somehow. And we did.”

One of the most powerful sentences we heard in Sweden was: ”Här i Sverige är vi alla i samma lådan”. In English this means that we are all equal, “in a same box”. This is something you very rarely hear in Finland where people seem to be more concerned about the system than about the people. Therefore, I would argue that we need more human-centred policies, more human-centred ways to approach the inevitable new movements of migrants and refugees. We also need to believe in our capacity to survive and manage these situations. We do not need to see people in separate boxes (as immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees), but as humans we are able and also obliged to help. We also need to concentrate on actions that support the agency of these people. In Sweden, we heard that people working in the field of migration have started to think about the universal skills these people might need in their lives wherever that life will be: What are those skills we can teach these people that are useful even if they are sent back?

States can also learn from each other’s’ “best practices” and mistakes. Sometimes, instead of just learning what and how things are done, we could learn from the attitude – how things are addressed. I am not saying that we cannot find innovative solutions here in Finland, but there is surely a lot of talk about the problems and less about solutions. There are some excellent new ideas here, too. I recently found out about Integrify, which is a part of “Vuosisadan rakentajat” (Builders of the Century). Integrify enables integration through technology and teaches coding for refugees, asylum seekers, and recent immigrants. This skill – nowadays compared to a reading skill – may help people to find their place in society. I am sure that Finland will learn too!



Migrationsverket, Sverige:


Sweden and migration:

Photo: Korjonen-Kuusipuro

Weaving voices together – collaborating across cultures through Mexican mask-making

The TRUST project collaborated in the autumn of 2016 with two artists, Anne Lihavainen and Rosamaria Bolom, in a Mexican mask project for unaccompanied minors and Finnish art class pupils. We met in four workshops where the masks were made and also attended a party where the pupils performed with their masks.

The aim of the art project was to offer a platform for cross-cultural communication and interaction and to support mutual understanding and solidarity among the young people. For us researchers, this art project offered a perfect opportunity to examine how collaborative methods actually work and how communication between different groups evolves. Our research method was participant observation: we talked with young participants and photographed their working for research purposes. We also worked as “helping hands” for Anne and Rosamaria when necessary. Some of the schoolteachers were also present in the classes.

During the workshops, we witnessed various ways of communication. At first, there seemed to be no relations between the unaccompanied and Finnish youths, some even rejecting others. However, with the artists’ support, we began to notice some small acts of communication. At first, these were non-verbal (such as eye contact, smiles etc.), but as people became more familiar with one another, verbal communication also began to take place. This verbal communication, however, needed a lot of support from the workshop’s leaders. Language seemed to form a barrier to deeper communication – the unaccompanied minors seemed quite uncertain about their Finnish skills even though they had learned Finnish extremely fast. At the same time, some of them seemed uncertain about the Finnish pupils’ interest in them. “They are probably not interested in us”, one of the boys commented. In our understanding, Finnish pupils actually wanted to socialise but hesitated communicating because they felt that using Finnish might prove too difficult for the non-native speakers. In a way, each group tried to protect the other and avoid embarrassment.

Three of the workshops were organised in a school environment and the fourth in a group home of unaccompanied minors. The school environment differed greatly from the home environment. At school, the pupils behaved in a very organised way. They seemed to act as if programmed by teachers to perform school tasks and mostly obeyed without questioning. At the home environment, the young made an effort to create activities for themselves, for example playing volleyball while others were finishing their masks. The young people were much more active at the group home than at the school.

All in all, we observed constant negotiation of visibility within the entire group: some of the Finnish pupils were very noisy during the classes and confronted the adults while others worked silently and obeyed orders very literally. Unaccompanied minors were polite to the adults but were constantly moving around and in and out of the classroom. They also used their mobile phones very cleverly to hide from social interaction if they felt unable to join in. The boys from the preparatory class also constantly negotiated whether or not to participate in various workshop tasks.

The photographing collaboration in the workshops was my responsibility. We had agreed on how and when to do it, we had explained it to the pupils and had their written permissions. Despite this agreement, one of the unaccompanied minors constantly questioned my right to photograph. Sometimes he looked at me in a challenging way, shook his head or just watched me very sternly. Once he even played the headmaster (sitting behind the teacher’s desk) and told me not to take photos. I interpreted his way of behaviour so that he was worried about where his or others’ photos might be shown – even though we had tried to explain that we would take photos only for research purposes and not show them anywhere. However, my interpretation may not have been correct because at the same time he kept asking me to take pictures of him and posed very eagerly for me with and without masks. He also liked to look at the pictures I had taken of him. In a way, he used his power on me. For me as a researcher, this meant that I had to be ready to constantly negotiate the means of research with participants to make it collaborative. I also needed to consider that ‘the accepted means’ of working together are not always the most suitable ones; and neither are ‘the non-accepted’ ways always wrong in collaborative research. In our case, none of the boys ever asked me to delete any pictures. I interpreted this as an acceptance of my research method.

In many ways these collaborative mask workshops were a success. We heard and saw all kind of voices from different cultures woven together. While at first these voices were rather weak, they were nevertheless seeds of some kind of deeper understanding between young people from different backgrounds. It must be remembered that collaboration demands time to develop and we only managed a glimpse of it. In order to support the communication and strengthen the belonging of these lovely young pupils, we need ways that maintain relationships between young people and trustworthy adults, such as the artists Anne and Rosamaria. Working together is one way to create these necessary relationships. This kind of work requires a lot of social skills, empathy and compassion from the facilitative adults as the artists Anne and Rosamaria showed us.

Kristiinan kuva blogi kierros 2
Photo: Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro


Where is my home?

Home, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is a place where a person lives. A home may also be a social unit, a family living together in one building, a house or a flat.

As simple as that? Not quite. When thinking about mobilities and transcultural belongings, “home” becomes a complicated issue that should not be taken for granted.

We understand home as a private space. It is a symbol of order, rootedness, self-identity, happiness and privacy. We see home often as a place that we are attached to as we assume it is shared by loved ones. Therefore, home contains meaningful memories and feelings of warmth and security. The concept of home may have different scales: it may be a place where you lie down and rest, a room, a community, a county, a country, or even a planet.

We have a tendency to think that people are place-bound, and research has shown that we do have emotional attachments and bonds to places. However, researchers have also, already for many years, stressed mobility, not stability, as an essential feature of places. The anthropologist Tim Ingold stresses that life is actually not in places but along the paths between these places. I agree with him.

Mobility and life along paths are also true of the place we call home. Our home exists within certain time and space, in a junctfieldion of possibilities and restrictions. The past home is not automatically our present home, and the present home is not inevitably our future, imagined home. This gives us the idea that home is not necessarily one specific place, but many places, which may simultaneously exist in the past, the present and the future. Common to all is the fact that a home is lived and experienced. Thus, a place will not be a home without actions.

When our Trust team was doing participatory field work in a workshop organised after the Reetu and Lola puppetry performance, Anne Lihavainen, the leader of the workshop, asked the participants what belongs to a home. One girl, maybe 4 or 5 years old, raised her hand and said, “Heart belongs to a home”. She also made a heart sign with her hands. Recently, I saw a similar sign on a wall of a group home for refugee minors: “A home is where your heart is.” This might also imply that our body is actually our only home.


The heart of butterflies collage photographed in an art class of a comprehensive school in southern Finland. Photo: Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro.
The heart of butterflies collage photographed in an art class of a comprehensive school in southern Finland. Photo: Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro.



Chaitin, J., Linstroth, J.P., Hiller, P.T. 2009. Ethnicity and Belonging: An Overview of a Study of Cuban, Haitian and Guatemalan Immigrants to Florida. Forum: Qualitative Social Research 10(3), 12.

Huttunen, L. 2002. Kotona, maanpaossa, matkalla. Kodin merkitykset maahanmuuttajien omaelämänkerroissa. SKS, Helsinki.

Ingold, T. 2011. Being Alive. Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. Routledge, Abingdon and New York.

Lewicka, M. 2011. Place attachment: How far have we come in the last 40 years? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31: 207–230.