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