Anastasiia Diudina helps Ukrainian refugees in Finland

by , under Enrique Tessieri

A young and energetic woman called Anastasiia Diudina aims to fight Russian aggression and sees helping Ukrainian refugees as an important part of it. What is surprising is that some of the problems the asylum seekers faced at asylum reception centers in 2015 and beyond are faced by Ukrainians.

While Diudina stresses that the treatment of Ukrainian refugees depends on the asylum reception center, former culprits like Luona, a private company, and the Red Cross are mentioned as poor examples since “they are big organizations.”

“Just like in 2015 and 2016, when people from Iraq and the Middle East came to Finland, it’s important that asylum reception center staffers understand that people are fleeing war, mass killings, genocide are traumatized,” she said. “Many [Ukrainian] refugees have spent weeks inside a cellar while their city was bombarded.”

“Luona, for one, refugees [allege] that they don’t get any humane treatment from the staffers,” Diuidina continued. “At Luona, some refugees have been told to live elsewhere if they aren’t happy with how they are treated. If you are treated poorly [by a worker], you lose trust in those that are supposed to help you.”

The young activist mentioned cultural and language problems between reception center staffers and refugees. She said that many Ukrainians don’t speak English.

“There are long waiting lines to visit the nurse,” Diudina explained. “How to treat diabetes is a good example of how cultural misunderstanding leads to mistrust. In Ukraine, diet is an important part of diabetes treatment even if it is not used as a diabetes treatment in Finland”.

The diabetic does not understand why the reception center does not give him the right food. This may lead him to falsely believe that nobody cares for him, according to her.

Yle wrote about how poor food at Kyyhkylä near Mikkeli was a common source of friction.

The young activist said that many problems could be avoided if there were enough resources to help refugees at reception centers. According to her, staffers are overwhelmed with work.

“Is this the refugee problem?” she asked. “No, it is Migri’s [Finnish Immigration Service].”



Present mistakes come from past mistakes

Remember former Center Party Prime Minister Juho Sipilä’s government when they had to deal with a record number of asylum seekers from mainly Iraq and Afghanistan? With the blessings of the National Coalition Party, Perussuomalaiset (PS)*, and the opposition, Finland passed draconian laws in 2016 to do away with pull factors.

If we are honest, those laws supposed to help asylum seekers and Ukrainian refugees are at the core of the problem. The same arguments used by understaffed and some unqualified staffers at asylum reception centers are made again: We had to do things in a rush, we don’t have the experience.

Diudina explained that there is a shortage of human resources, forcing some to be inflexible and do the minimum that the law requires.

“A poor example is when a relative or a refugee staying at the [Luona’s Nihtisilta reception center] reception center wanted to sleep over and then go to another reception center in Mikkeli,” she explained. “Under no circumstances did the staff allow their relative to sleep over. They told their relative to sleep in the woods.”

The incident led to a protest at the reception center, with the Ukrainians lying down in protest for forcing the refugee to sleep outdoors.

“It was pretty sad,” Diudina said. “The staffers laughed at the protesting Ukrainians. The police came in two hours, and everything ended well when the person could spend the night at the police station.

Ways to move forward

According to Diudina, injustices faced by Ukrainians cannot be explained by just racism, even though individual cases of racism do happen. Finnish society is eager to help Ukrainians. However, according to her, it is not always evident in private asylum reception centers.

She called the poor treatment of some Ukrainians bullying. She said that some of it is intentional.

“A staffer photocopied a page for a refugee, but when the person asked for a new copy, the staffer left and said she didn’t have any time,” she said. “This is intentional bullying.”

Another example was a cold response to a refugee who wanted to see a doctor because of her stomach pains. “Go to Helsinki and buy some medicine at the market,” the staffer snapped.

One of the big challenges at asylum reception centers is the lack of empathy and greater interaction with the refugees.

“Problems don’t arise at reception centers because of the refugee’s country of origin,” Diudina continued. “If there were centers that could house 2,000 refugees a year, and now there are many more, then it leads to a lack of resources and the inability of some of these reception centers to offer secure surroundings.”

Before the Russian invasion, there were about 4,000 Ukrainian residents in Finland compared with over 40,000 today.

“Moreover, the authorities should understand that these people, who may be from Iraq or Ukraine, need help because they are [traumatized] victims of war. We need more humanity,” according to Diudina.

Hopefully, Finland will learn from its second large wave of refugees, which forced the number of reception centers to rise to over 90 from 20, how to treat people with the respect they deserve.