Deaconess Foundation’s has reached about 1 500 unprotected people
For the last three years, the Deaconess Foundation’s Unprotected community project has reached about 1 500 undocumented people in the greater Helsinki region. This has comprised some 20 000 individual encounters with them. Most of the clients are men but there are also a considerable number of women and children.
The project is being run at the Al Amal day centre. A documentary programme made at the center can be seen at Yle Areena.
The Al Amal day centre for undocumented people functions for many as a substitute for family and home. Undocumented people go there for help, but also to meet the project workers and people who face situations like their own.
An undocumented person exists in a country without an official residence entitlement, in a situation of invisibility and uncertainty about the future.
Al Amal’s employees know the cultural backgrounds of the visitors
“Building trust with such vulnerable people is challenging and awkward because they fear everything and everyone, and therefore do not trust anyone after the many difficulties and disappointments they experience,” explains Anne Hammad. She manages the Unprotected project.
“For many undocumented people who have been going to Al Amal for a long time, the workers there are the family they don’t have. They come to tell you their news, their ups and downs or to drop by for a coffee, to do their laundry or to prepare meals together,” says Anne.
“The undocumented people who come to for help and advice to manage their lives and resolve their situation feel that Al Amal’s employees are a lifeline. They can find a solution to their otherwise impossible life situations. And even if an actual solution is not always found, many feel that with our help they will find a way forward in their hopelessness and gain the strength to continue tomorrow. ”
Al Amal’s employees know the cultural backgrounds of the visitors and speak their languages. In this way, undocumented clients can express their feelings and describe their life situation accurately.
Numbers of undocumented people unknown
No one knows how many undocumented people there are in Finland nor their whereabouts. The numbers are difficult to estimate. The Unprotected project cannot not provide a figure for this either. The numbers of undocumented people and people in similar circumstances encountered through the project suggest that the overall figure is considerable. The numbers of such people is expected to increase due to negative decisions on asylum.
The Unprotected project has enabled a wide range of assistance to be given to undocumented people. The project has helped those who have received a negative asylum decision as well as others who have had their residence permits withdrawn. The project has provided undocumented people with community activities, peer support and psychosocial support, as well as service guidance for other multidisciplinary services. The meetings with clients look at what it means to live in Finland without a residence permit, what consequences being undocumented can have for them, and above all to try to work out what options they have in each case to change their situation.
There are several routes to becoming an Al Amal client. Mostly, it is at the initiative of the undocumented individual themselves. When a person stays in Finland or is in the country without a residence permit or other travel document, such as a visa, entitling them to remain in the country, they will get in touch with Al Amal staff or drop by at the centre. The relatives and acquaintances of undocumented people also reach out for help. In addition, officials, parish diaconia workers, and other helpers contact the centre on behalf of undocumented people.
Support and realism
Anne Hammad points out that undocumented people need a wide range of counselling because many do not know about the sorts of help or support they are entitled to and able to get.
“Many come with their residence permit decision to ask what the things listed in the decision mean or what they should do next, or even what options they still have after receiving multiple negative decisions.”
When a residence permit is not given, the decision is looked at honestly with the client concerned.
“We go through the residence permit decision together with the client and talk about the remaining options based on it. If necessary, we consult with
- the Finnish Immigration Service,
- Refugee Advice,
- the International Refugee Organization IOM or
- the police.
“We don’t make useless promises. Often, a person is left with only bad alternatives and from these we try to identify an alternative that works as well as possible for the client. We talk about possible new decisions or policies made by different authorities, and we correct a lot of the rumours that circulate among undocumented people. ”
The Deaconess Foundation has supported undocumented people since 2013, first by providing them with health services and, since 2016, also by providing day centre activities. The Unprotected community project, financed by the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA), has been operating since 2018 and has organised activities for undocumented people and carried out enquiries with them at the Al Amal day centre.