AMONG the immigrant groups in Finland, the Afghans are somewhere in the middle when compared in size: according to the 2011 figures of the Population Information System, there are fewer than 3,000 Afghans living in Finland.
The Afghan populations in other Nordic countries are markedly greater, however. This is mostly because Afghans have been arriving in Finland only for about ten years now, says Zakir Ehsani, a 19-year old Afghan living in Tampere, and one of the people running the Facebook group Suomessa asuvat afganistanilaiset (Afghans Living in Finland).
Though modestly sized, the group is evidently active: celebrations for Nowruz, the Persian New Year, and other events are organised in every major city in Finland. The role of Suomen Afgaanijärjestö ry (the Finnish Afghans’ Association) as a nation-wide association is important in putting on cultural events and seminars all across Finland. In addition, there are smaller, local associations for different tribes (there are four major tribes in Afghanistan), but all Afghans are welcome to their events.
Many of the happenings are cross-cultural, organised in collaboration with other associations, and showcase food, dancing and other cultural activities from Afghanistan and Finland. The young Afghans integrate into Finland easily, says Ehsani, as they go to school and learn Finnish there and through friends. According to him, the challenge of settling in is greater for the older generations – Finnish is typically more difficult to learn for them, especially as most lack education because of decades of war that have afflicted the country, and cannot read or write even in their own language.
The principal reason why Afghans leave their country is insecurity. In fact, Afghanistan has the biggest migration rate in the world: according to UN records, in 2011 every fourth refugee in the world was from Afghanistan, and over 5.7 million people have left the country in the last 10 years as refugees.
What undoubtedly helps in settling in a new society is the support of fellow countrymen, and Ehsani says that there exists a real sense of community among Afghans in Finland. “When I came to Finland with my parents three years ago, already in a few days we had got to know some local Afghans!” he says. “Generally speaking the Afghans in Finland are welcoming, stay closely in touch, help each other and inform one another of events.”