EAEA GRUNDTVIG AWARD 2016. Three thousand: this is the number of unaccompanied refugee minors who entered Finland in 2015 and applied for asylum. Luckily, the Finnish Folk High School Association thought up an idea that could offer an adequate response.
The article series shares good practices by introducing the nominees of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2016.
The number of unaccompanied refugee minors who sought asylum in Finland was fifteen times higher in 2015 than in 2014, reaching over 3000. With the Finnish Immigration Service under immense pressure to establish supported housing for all refugee children, the Finnish Folk High School Association stepped in. Acting on a short notice, the association launched the Education and Supported Housing Programme for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors, an initiative that has already yielded encouraging results.
Practically speaking, more than 20 folk high schools, which are also boarding schools, opened their doors to over 500 young refugees. With pedagogy based on dialogue and homelike housing arrangements, folk high schools proved to be a safe and hospitable environment for refugees. It is also a place where young people can get continuing professional support, with some staff members present around the clock.
Folk high schools help refugees achieve complete yet secure immersion in the Finnish culture. Living with Finnish students provides them with a valuable opportunity to not only learn the language, but also meet new people and open up socially. By encouraging students to organize chores and free time activities together, folk high schools foster collaboration and ultimately integration. They also strive to involve local stakeholders in the process, thus strengthening the whole community in a multicultural way.
The mid-term evaluation carried out by the Finnish Immigration Service has been overwhelmingly positive. The refugee minors who participated in the programme are reported to have improved their language and cultural skills; they also feel more confident about their education and future life in Finland.
The Finnish Folk High School Association points out that these achievements have fundamental importance, not only for the refugees in question, but also for society as a whole. Interaction with other students and the surrounding society enhances integration, prevents social exclusion and even radicalization. This is done at the community level, but also nation-wide, as the network of folk high schools stretches across the country.
Text: Aleksandra Kozyra
Photo: The Finnish Folk High School Association