Double minorities often forgotten in public services

Written by Johanna Warius, ERI alumna

While there seems tJohanna kuvao be few issues challenging asylum seekers as the Hot Topic #1 in Finnish public debate, an increasingly un-nuanced image of ‘immigrants’, ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’ is emerging. It should go without saying that, as in any other group of people, there is plenty of variation within these categories.

Health status and disability are two of the factors placing certain immigrant persons at an even bigger disadvantage than those who do not face these issues. The concept of minorities within minorities, or double minorities, is useful in this context. It describes how an immigrant person with a disability or a long-term illness has to endure and be able to solve challenges on two fronts.

Navigating the Finnish social services structure can be a battle for anyone, let alone for a person with lacking language and cultural skills. Add mapping, applying for and using disability services to the regular palette, and you’ll most likely be in need of specialised guidance.

This is what Hilma – the Support Centre for Immigrant Persons with Disabilities, a third sector actor located in East Helsinki, provides. At the Support Centre Hilma clients can get help in dealing with issues relating to public services, housing, employment, education and health care, etc. In short, the idea is to have one place from where you will not immediately be sent to the next counter. Our task is to gather the information and give the support needed to move forward in the situation at hand. Quite often we find that a good solution is available, but the client has not been aware of her or his rights or how to apply for the available services.

Although Finland has (at least up until recently) relatively well-working public services, they are often planned to be used by a rather homogeneous group. This is why Support Centre Hilma also does advocacy work in order to make sure that immigrants are taken into account in disability-specific services and that people with disabilities and long-term illnesses are not forgotten in immigrant integration services.

Finland can and should get a lot better at planning and providing services for its increasingly diverse population – whether we’re talking about ethnic origin, health, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion or any other identity or personal quality.

An adequate understanding of diversity is undoubtedly key in effective advocacy for diversity-serving public services. Having had the privilege of studying these issues as one of the first ‘eriits’ when the programme was launched back in 2008, I trust I have the required expertise. The ERI programme provided the solid ground that I needed to work with human rights and equality issues in the third sector.

Johanna Warius is a coordinator at Hilma – the Support Centre for Immigrant Persons with Disabilities. She graduated from the ERI-programme in 2011 with a major in sociology.

The role of history in present day intergroup relations

The first CEREN seminar of 2016 was organized 21st January together with the research area of Cultural and Social Diversities and Intergroup Relations within the Doctoral Program in Social Sciences. The invited international guest speaker Borja Martinovic is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Interdisciplinary Social Science (Ercomer) at Utrecht University. Ercomer also organizes a Master’s Degree Programme in Migration, Ethnic Relations and Multiculturalism.

IMG_9868Martinovic started her presentation by talking about the theory of social representation and in specific research establishing the importance of social representation of history for current intergroup relations. Her own research focus is on historical claims of territorial ownership. Intergroup relations often revolve around the question of “who owns the country”. The question of ownership and entitlements is relevant also in more peaceful immigrant receiving societies. Martinovic pointed out that even if there is no legal ownership to be claimed, there may be a strong idea of collective psychological ownership.  Historical narratives can be used to claim ownership and affect present day intergroup relations.  Autochthony meaning entitlement for firstcomers, is a concept that Martinovic has adopted in her research. She has been working with case studies in Australia, USA, Transsylvania and the Chilean and Bolivian border area where she has researched different types of historical ownership claims.  One conclusion she has made is that the way we interpret intergroup history guides our attitudes towards out-groups in the present.

Borja Martinovic’s visit to Helsinki has been important in many ways, also for the ERI programme. In the future, there will be closer cooperation as both teacher and student mobility between Helsinki and Utrecht will be developed.

Written by Anna Storgårds, coordinator of the ERI-programme