A video of a typical, simple apartment in a Finnish municipality is displayed on a screen for a group of Congolese people who have been selected as quota refugees to resettle in Finland. When the video ends, the group starts applauding. They seem really excited and ask me to play the video again, which I do. To my surprise, after watching the video for a second time they seem even more enthusiastic about the idea of living in Finland!
That situation was a very touching moment in my life and a memory I will never forget.
We take many things in our lives for granted, including the right to adequate housing. Think about yourself and your comfortable life: you probably have your own space and enjoy privacy! Perhaps you’re even planning to renovate your kitchen or replacing some of your furniture.
Many refugees are in a different situation. They may have lost their homes or have fled to another country to seek protection. Under such circumstances having adequate housing is luxurious. Refugees are often living in a tent or a temporary house with no kitchen, toilet, electricity, privacy nor safety.
Topic of housing as part of pre-departure orientation
IOM provides pre-departure orientation training for refugees who have been accepted for resettlement to Finland. They participate in a three-day training which includes a variety of topics related to Finland and living in the country.
One of the topics is “Daily life in Finland” which covers housing. The course participants usually have countless questions about housing and their future life. As a trainer, I tell them about different housing types, basic furniture, housekeeping, safety, the housing rules and tenants’ responsibilities, such as paying rent in time, recycling and respecting neighbours. IOM’s training material is designed to give quota refugees a realistic idea about the apartments they are going to live in once they resettle in Finland.
Housing system grabs the training participants’ attention because they are looking forward to settling down in a safe and calm place and going back to normal life.
Children wishing for a calm and protected life
During the training, children get pens and paper and the liberty to draw whatever they want. By observing their drawings of houses, I can tell that the children are also eager to settle down and start a life in their new home. Their drawings reflect homesickness and longing for the pre-war times when their lives were full of love, peace and security.
Basics of Finland in a nutshell
Housing is just one part of the pre-departure orientation. In addition to that topic, the daily life chapter includes practical information about for example paying bills, using bank services, grocery shopping, cycling and using public transportation. Receiving knowledge about all these daily things already before travelling to Finland eases the quota refugees’ adaptation process.
IOM gives each family a whole “Moving to Finland” workbook, a comprehensive guide which helps the quota refugees to prepare themselves for their resettlement in Finland. It consists of nine chapters that cover all the basic information about Finland, and it can also be used as a guide after starting a life in Finland.
Housing as a human right
A house is not just a roof and walls, but it holds deeper meaning of being a basic human right. The right to adequate housing is one of the rights recognized in international human rights law. Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) acknowledge the right of everyone to adequate living conditions, including adequate housing. Furthermore, in 2015 Member States of the United Nations (UN) adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to eliminate poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere by 2030. The SDG 11 includes the right of everyone to adequate housing.
Housing is a basic right for every person whether rich or poor. Therefore, every state must take the responsibility of providing its citizens with access to decent housing.
The writer works as a migrant trainer at IOM Finland.
Finnish Immigration Service is responsible for providing pre-departure orientation (PDO) for Finland-bound quota refugees. IOM and Diaconia University of Applied Sciences arrange the PDO trainings in the countries of first asylum before the refugees resettle in Finland.
The contents of the Moving to Finland workbook are can be found online on movingtofinland.fi. The website is available in nine languages.
Sustainable Development Goal 11, target 1: “By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”