How Finnish countryside could be saved by refugees and immigrants

sundborn-2030232_640Finnish people are moving a lot, and they move from the North to the South. According to Yle, “one million – the number of times moving boxes are packed and emptied again in Finland every year. The vast majority of Finland’s internal migrants make their way to the south of the country. Last year [2013], removal vans brought 80,000 new residents to the Helsinki region. This is how it’s gone for decades, at least since the end of the Second World War. Rural areas have been losing people as the population makes its way towards the country’s growth centers. Governments have tried, but failed, to halt the flow“.

Some efforts have been done, even if there is no territory development policy, except maybe for Lapland, which benefits from tourism investments. But, let’s face it, the rest of the territory is dying quite fast. And, as some businessmen and conservative politicians put it, everything would be simpler and more efficient if everybody was living in the capital region.

Is it a fatality? When you read about a number of stories from other countries, more used to immigration, you can get some ideas on how the arrival of refugees and immigrants could change this situation, if only some people would see in  this so-called crisis  an opportunity.

Riace in Italy is a beautiful village of 1,700 people but for decades several houses have lain empty. According to the BBC, the occupants left to build new lives elsewhere, in the north of Italy or traveling as far as New Zealand, Argentina and the US. Its inhabitants were old, and the school was going to be closed, because the number of children was too low. The mayor decided to welcome refugees’ families, and used the empty houses and apartments to provide the necessary accommodation. The scheme was successful, the Italian school is now full and a second teacher has been recruited. Young people in the village stopped leaving, as the local businesses were active. The opposition from the extreme-right has disappeared, and the only opponent is the Calabrian mafia, the notorious ‘Ndrangheta, who dislikes this integration model because they can see that it works and because it challenges their grip on the region.

In France, at 1000 meters of altitude, in the central mountains, Chambon-le-Château has been a haven of peace for refugees … for twelve years. Fifty-five people are housed in houses in this village of 285 inhabitants, and 30 others nearby.Thanks to their presence, the school has 44 pupils and 4 teachers.  It has been a vital arrival after the closure of a dairy, a sawmill, a center for teenagers and a total loss of 80 jobs. Over time, a peaceful, polished, convivial coexistence at times has been organized. Refugees have swelled the ranks of the football team. One is elected to the Parents’ Council.  In the winter they do the snow-work with local people.

One could multiply the examples of small villages and towns “saved” by the arrival or refugees. It works well when they are not parked in isolated centers, but get normal dwellings their children can go to normal schools, and they can learn the language, which goes faster than with other immigrants. In 3 months, children in primary schools can speak,study  and write in their new language.  It has probably something to do with the fact that the many of the refugees, far from having backgrounds of extreme poverty, studied at university or worked in good jobs before disaster hit.This is particularly true for Syrians, whose country used to have one of the best education systems in the region before it plunged into war and chaos in 2011.

When you travel to different parts of Finland, and see these small towns with these closed stores and empty streets, as I did recently in  Eastern and Northern Finland, you feel sadness about their destiny, from prosperous cities in the old times to dying cities today, which is strange when you think that modern technology allows teleworking and gives you access from everywhere to almost everything.

So what if the possibility to welcome refugees and integrate them is a chance for Finland’s dying towns? After all, their life stories are proving that they have more “sisu” than a majority of people here… …



Categories: Economy, Government

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