Study: residents with foreign backgrounds integrate, but don’t always feel Finnish

Researchers talked to 300 people from each of five different language groups: Somali, Arabic, Russian, Estonian and English.

Finnish flag drawn in chalk / Credit: Suomi100 Suvi-Tuuli Kankaanpää

A new study of Finnish residents from five different language groups in the capital city region finds that while many feel they have integrated well into society, they’re not likely to adopt a Finnish identity.

The research was carried out by the E2 think tank, and a researcher at the City of Helsinki and was backed by the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and the Ministry of Justice. Around 300 people from each native language group – Russian, Estonian, Somali, Arabic and English – answered questions for the report.

Who is attached to Finland?

More than 75% of those five language groups combined feel that they are fully part of Finnish society. It’s most common among Somali-speaking residents at 43%, but least among Estonian-speaking residents with just 10%.

“The majority of the Estonian speakers are in Finland to work, and most of them plan to return to Estonia sooner or later” says Pasi Saukkonen, one of the report’s authors from the City of Helsinki.

“They do not necessarily feel a very strong need to integrate here” Saukkonen adds.

Best command of English

Residents with Somali backgrounds have the best command of the Finnish language, but 45% of them say they don’t have Finnish friends. Among Arabic speakers 32% say they don’t have Finnish friends.

While native English speakers are the most tightly integrated into Finnish society, with Finnish-speaking friends and acquaintances, 40% of them speak Finnish only at basic level or not at all.

“In terms of integration, it is a problem if immigrants have no contact with natives” says Ville Pitkänen, one of the E2 researchers who wrote the report.

Arabic speakers fit in quickly 

Of the different language groups included in the survey, two thirds of Arabic speakers said they feel equal with Finland’s native population – much higher than other language groups.

The researchers found that Arabic-speaking residents tend to gain a Finnish identity quite quickly after arriving, and 37% said they feel quite Finnish or completely Finnish.

“Perhaps because of their background they have an above-average appreciation of what Finland has to offer, and of the opportunity for a new start, and this shoiws in the study. Expectations are high” says E2 researcher Jussi Westinen.

The majority of Arabic-speaking residents in the capital city region arrived as refugees and lived in Finland less than five years. But 90% of them said they want to stay for the rest of their lives.

Negative media experiences and discrimination

The new study finds that many members of language minority groups in the capital region feel the media gives an overly negative picture about them.

This view is held by 82% of Somali speakers; 72% of Arabic speakers and 56% of Russian speakers. Among those residents speaking English or Estonian the concept of a negative media portrait is less commonly felt.

The different language groups also told researchers about their experiences of discrimination on the job market.

Around 90% of Somali speakers felt discriminated; 57% of Arabic speakers; 51% of Russian speakers and 40% of English speakers. Only 25% of Estonian-speaking residents said they’d encountered some type of labour market discrimination.

“In spite of negative experiences, 90% of the respondents feel at home in Finland” the report concludes.