Surprising lack of toys in refugee tent

Anne Sjökvist
Anne Sjökvist

The Red Cross Refugee Tent tour is making its way around Finland. When the tent was pitched in the Åland Islands, children in particular were interested in it.

Preliminary schedule for the 2014 Refugee Tent tour. Changes possible!

March 17–23 Kouvola

March 17–18 Jyväskylä

March 20–23 Porvoo

March 20–21 Turku

April 11 Helsinki, Ruoholahti

April 12 Turku

April 24–25 Heinola

April 25–27 Oulu

April 26 Southwest Finland

May 2–3 Lapua

May 6 Seinäjoki

May 8–10 Joensuu

May 8–9 Helsinki, Malmi, Kannelmäki

May 5–11 Häme District

May 14–20 Turunmaa

May 22 Oulu

May 23 Rovaniemi

June 9–11 Turunmaa

June 5–8 Turku, General Assembly

September 17–20 Helsinki, Hunger Day

October 7 Pori

November 8 Åland Islands

The refugee tent was part of the annual Ålandsmässan fair. It contains a bed with a mosquito net over it, a small box of dry foods, cutlery, plates and mugs for a small family, and a few items of clothing. A family could spend dozens of years living in such a tent pitched in a refugee camp.

‘Naturally the tent is not identical to a real tent in a real camp, but it does give visitors some sense of what it would be like to live in a refugee camp,’ says Stefan Simonsen, operations manager of the FRC Åland Islands District.

A film projected onto the back wall of the tent gives another glimpse into the life of refugees, in particular that of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Also inside the tent, cotton wool plugs hint at the need to block out the smells of too many people living in close proximity to one another without proper food, clean water, or toilets.

Serious matters

Most of the people who venture into the tent are children. The adults are happy to have their blood pressure taken and to spend a few moments talking about the global refugee situation.

‘The toys in the tent – or perhaps the lack of them – give the children a strong sense of what it is like to be a refugee. There are only two toys on the floor of the tent: a small wooden car and one plastic toy. The children’s faces grow grave as they think about the life of children who have to live in a refugee camp,’ says Simonsen.

The provincial government of the Åland Islands along with most of the local municipalities would be happy to take in Syrian refugees, but Simonsen says the process is far too slow and the number of refugees too low. The first 20 refugees will be coming to the demilitarised islands next year.

‘I think our local government needs to be a lot more proactive. Nobody wants to live in a refugee camp.’

Many people come up to speak to Pisey Hang from Cambodia, who is with the Red Cross tent at Ålandsmässan fair. Pisey has been involved in Red Cross work since 2011 and is the Red Cross student group leader at her university.

‘We help local students and raise funds so they can finish their studies.’

Pisey is in Finland for six months, during which she is working in the Åland and Turunmaa districts of the Finnish Red Cross. Pisey has not visited an actual refugee camp, but finds the people of the Åland Islands very interested in the question of refugees.