June 19 2017

A Home Away From Home for Child Refugees in Finland

Unaccompanied child refugees find a safe, loving home at an SOS youth home in Finland.

Parsa and Arush have at least three things in common: they are child refugees, they arrived in Finland alone, and they currently live together in a youth home set up by SOS Children’s Villages.

“If it weren’t for the family group home, I would probably be living in a huge reception center somewhere,” said Parsa, a 15-year-old boy from Afghanistan who is in the 9th grade. 

“When I arrived in Finland, I knew I didn’t have to feel scared anymore and I could finally go back to school. I want to start a family and make a good life for myself here,” said Arush, 16.

Across Europe in 2016, there were about 62,000 child refugees who applied for asylum in Europe and were unaccompanied by an adult. In 2015, the number was more than 90,000.

Responding to the needs of these children, SOS Children’s Villages (SOS) in Finland opened family homes for children who were seeking asylum in Finland but had no family.  
 

Two of the children play videogames in their SOS youth home.

 

Two of the children explore their musical talents.


Including Parsa and Arush, there are 16 children who live in the SOS youth home in Espoo, Finland, one of three such SOS homes in the country. In total, there are 45 children—most of whom are from Afghanistan—who live at the youth homes in Finland. 
 
“It is SOS Children’s Villages’ vision to ensure that every child has the chance to grow up in a family with love, respect and security. However, the parents of these young people are not part of their lives on a day-to-day basis. This very much defines the work that we do and means that, in many ways, we take on the role of foster parents,” said Mikko Ylisuvanto, the director of the youth home.

One of the main goals of the youth home is to help the young refugees successfully integrate into Finnish society, which includes school, jobs and Finnish culture. 

Everyday life at the house is not very different from any other home full of children and young people. Everyone gets up for school in the morning, and the afternoons are a particularly busy time with everyone arriving back home to have dinner.

At the family group home, the trained staff treat the children as individuals, getting to know their needs and personalities. Rules are in place to provide a sense of security and a regular pattern to everyday life. There is a set bedtime for everyone and when the boys head out, they are expected to say where they are going.

Compared to other European countries, Finland processes a small number of asylum requests. Over the past year, there have been about 60,000 refugees who have sought asylum in Finland, including about 14,000 children 17 or younger. By comparison, there were 630,000 asylum requests made in Germany alone in 2016.

In other European countries such as Greece, Italy and Austria, SOS runs youth homes for unaccompanied child refugees similar to the one in Espoo. At these homes, the children receive a safe and loving home where they are supported to fully integrate into their host country, including the completion of their secondary education.

The children's names have been changed and their faces unexposed to protect their privacy.

Data sources: European Migration Network, Government of Finland, European Commission