Immigrants as part of the community

In Forssa, an integration team consisting of four members is responsible for the integration of immigrants and refugees in the area. Their tasks include everything from explaining the need for mud pants to finding jobs and helping newcomers settle in the area. There’s plenty of work for volunteers too.
Kaksi henkilöä käytävällä pitelemässä yhdessä paperia käsissään.Hussien Eid moved to the Forssa region from Syria in 2015 and has since trained as an interpreter. He works closely with Integration Coordinator Niina Mäkelä. A shared language is a prerequisite for getting things done.

At Kotouttamo, a Forssa region integration centre, preparation for the coming wet and snowy weather is in full swing. Instructions for day care centres are translated into different languages. It’s important for the translations to be understandable and simple. 

- This reflects our work well. We need to be able to explain to newcomers what slushy weather is and how to prepare for it. We need to have them understand why winter boots are better for a child than pretty pink leather shoes during winter, says Niina Mäkelä, Integration Coordinator. 

The Kotouttamo integration centre was established in March this year when integration services were transferred from the welfare district to municipalities. The Yhteisötalo community centre and the Oma Häme office offering social services for immigrants also operate in the same facilities.

- We work to integrate immigrants and refugees into the local community as well as possible. We have clients from around 20 countries. Because of the language barriers, quota refugees are usually selected so that there are at least a few people of the same language group already living here. This makes it easier for refugees to integrate into a new country and culture. 

Refugees, immigrants and others requiring temporary protection are clients of Kotouttamo until they’re granted citizenship. On registering a municipality of residence, they have the same rights and obligations as other citizens, and Kotouttamo guides everyone with a migrant background to the right services.

- Even so, I’m often contacted by clients from several years ago. They know that we help and guide them to the right services, says Mäkelä with a smile.

Low-threshold activities 

In addition to its statutory duties, Kotouttamo offers low-threshold guidance services. Twice a week you can come in and ask anything you’d like, although often the questions have to do with Kela in one way or another. Experts from Kela and the TE Office are also available once a week. 

- We resolve all sorts of issues, sometimes quite cryptic ones too. These might include sorting out the inspection process for a foreign car or issues relating to social security numbers, says Niina Mäkelä. 

Kotouttamo helps newcomers with matters relating to language, employment, day-care and schooling. The integration centre also works directly with local businesses. Jokioisten Leipä and C.P.E. Production, for example, have recruited many immigrants.

- We also have many tasks that don’t require expert services, but which still need to be organised. These include, for example, accompanying clients to various info sessions and public services, or acting as a coordinator between different associations and clubs and immigrants. We’re always happy to find more volunteers to participate in our work.

Kotouttamo also wants to reach immigrants who haven’t arrived in the country through official channels. These might include families of international students or people who have relocated here due to a marriage. Our integration services are for these groups as well. 

Read more about Kotouttamo.