Report: Uncertain life situation straining for asylum seekers’ relationships and parenthood
Cultural differences, an uncertain future and lack of family and support networks place a strain on the family life of asylum seekers. These were the findings of a survey carried out by the Finnish Immigration Service on the challenges faced by asylum seekers in intimate relationships and parenthood.
A total of 23 reception centres took part in the survey. The survey was conducted by a questionnaire and interviews of reception centre employees. One aim of the survey was to identify tools for helping families at reception centres in need of support.
"We gained valuable information on the issues faced by employees at reception centres, and on the kind of help provided to customers that has been found effective," says Sirpa Rönkkömäki, project leader and Director of Oulu Reception Centre.
Arriving in Finland can lead to changed family roles
Gender roles in Finland may differ from those of the asylum seekers’ countries of origin. The roles of a family may involve a stark division between men and women, for example. The weaker status of the woman may take the form of the man making decisions or speaking on his wife’s behalf.
Reception centre employees provide both men and women with an explanation of Finnish customs and the rights and responsibilities of each individual in Finland.
"Some may find the change to a Western view of gender equality drastic. In our customers’ cultures, equality may have a different meaning, but they may still feel that the roles of men and women within the family community are equal," Rönkkömäki explains.
According to the survey report, efforts to support women are important, but it is also essential for the benefit of the family as a whole that special attention is paid to supporting the men. In families that arrive in Finland, it is often the men who feel that their status has changed most.
According to the report, nearly all reception centres had observed and intervened in instances of domestic violence.
Support that acknowledges differences in customs
The survey found that families staying at reception centres often needed support with raising children in the new country. The aims and methods of upbringing differ from culture to culture, and familiar social conventions may no longer apply in Finland.
Concern and the need to protect their children is evident in the parents’ behaviour. For example, children may not always understand the true purpose of the journey, and have been told by their parents that they are on "holiday".
The report concludes that effective support work should acknowledge the attitudes of asylum seekers and engage in open discussion about cultural differences and the impact of difficult experiences on family life. Problems should be met with rapid intervention, in an understanding manner.
"To provide help successfully, we need to understand cultural differences and the critical life situation of the families," says Rönkkömäki.
The report can be read on our website (available in Finnish). The report also includes basic instructions and practical tools for supporting relationships and families.
Further information for the media
project leader Sirpa Rönkkömäki, Director, Oulu Reception Centre, tel. +358 295 430 431, email: [email protected]