Red Cross volunteers receive Amnesty Human Rights Award

Tomi Asikainen / Amnesty Finland
The Director of Amnesty Finland, Frank Johansson (on the left), granted the Candle Award to the Finnish Red Cross volunteers. The award went to the over 8,000 volunteers who have assisted in the reception of asylum seekers. The award was received in person by Helvi Loijas from Noormarkku, Noora Aho from Helsinki, Joonas Niemi from Turku, and William Rivera from Helsinki.
Image: Tomi Asikainen / Amnesty Finland

The volunteers were awarded for the volunteer work in aiding asylum seekers. Four Finnish Red Cross volunteers were there to receive the award.

The Finnish section of the human rights organisation Amnesty International has awarded the annual Candle Award for human rights to the Finnish Red Cross volunteers for their work in aiding asylum seekers.
 
The award was granted on international Human Rights Day, 10 December.
 
– This autumn, there is no one who deserves this award more than the Red Cross volunteers. The award is granted for supporting the asylum seekers in a situation where Finland has received a tenfold number of asylum seekers compared to previous years, says Frank Johansson, Director of Amnesty Finland, at the awards ceremony.
 
– The volunteers have had an important role in starting the dialogue between the asylum seekers and the local society. It is Amnesty’s view that they have done an excellent job.
 
The award goes to all of the 8,000 Finnish Red Cross volunteers who have supported the reception of the asylum seekers this autumn.
 
At the awards ceremony on Thursday, the volunteers were represented by Noora Aho and William Rivera from Helsinki, Joonas Niemi from Turku and Helvi Loijas from Noormarkku.
 
– No one does this work in the hopes of a prize, Helvi Loijas said in her thank-you speech.
 

Assembling beds with a screwdriver

Helvi Loijas, 64, joined the volunteer activities at the yard of the Harjavalta reception centre.
 
The Harjavalta reception centre was established so quickly that the asylum seekers arrived before the centre had hired a single employee.
 
– I went there with a clothing donation and asked if they needed help. I said I wanted to do something practical. I was given a screwdriver, and so I started assembling beds right away.
 
Helvi did volunteer work for eight consecutive weeks, six days a week.
 
– We got to know the asylum seekers quickly. Many of them needed someone to talk to. They would show me videos of children learning to walk while the father is away. I was kind of a mother figure, Helvi says.
 
Noora Aho, 21, had already participated actively in Red Cross volunteer work. She joined the Sturenkatu reception centre as a volunteer when her friend from the first aid group asked her to.
 
– I accompany the residents of the reception centre when they go see a doctor or when they visit the Finnish Immigration Service – wherever they need to go. In addition, I’ve distributed food, sorted clothes and made a weekly calendar for the volunteers in Excel. On Sunday we organised an Independence Day party and cooked, Noora says.
 

A man wants to speak to a man

Joonas Niemi, 28, volunteered at the beginning of September when Turku started receiving asylum seekers. One of Joonas’ first tasks was to add fuel into the heating generators at the tents placed in the yard of the Pansio reception centre.
 
– Now, I've started to organise sports activities for the asylum seekers. We’ve played basketball and gone running. Next week we’ll start to plan a Christmas party with the reception units in Turku. We’ve also talked a lot, man-to-man, Joonas says.
 
William Rivera, 36, already used to work with volunteers in his home country of Colombia. He wanted to continue the work after having moved to Finland. William leads groups for men in the reception centres in Helsinki.
 
– I’ve been touched by how many Finnish men have volunteered to help. In Helsinki we received a sauna to be used by the men’s group, and in a second it turned into a Turkish hammam as the men sang and threw water on the stones. We certainly updated the concept of the Finnish sauna, William says.