Sports hobbies promote integration

Leena Koskela
Leena Koskela
Leena Koskela
Sports project in 2016–2019
  • Objective: Supporting the well-being of asylum seekers and children and young people with residence permits by providing easy and fun ways to exercise. Providing a variety of exercise opportunities in partnership with local exercise and sports clubs.
  • Asylum seekers and holders of residence permits have tried more than 50 forms of exercise. The most popular forms are swimming, football and gym.
  • 18 reception centres participated in the project.
  • Funding: Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland (from Veikkaus profits)
  • Cooperation partners: Finnish Olympic Committee, as well as local sports clubs and other sports-related operators

The Red Cross encourages asylum seekers and young people with a residence permit to exercise. Exercise relieves stress in challenging life situations, and it offers a chance to get to know Finnish society and people.

A sports project funded by the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland enabled exercising at the Red Cross’ reception centres and family group homes in 2016–2019.

In the gym of a school in Lohja, you can hear running steps and shouts:

– Steal it!

– Yeah, that was the best of the day!

A local motor club is having a floorball practice session in the gym. There are about a dozen players, with ages ranging from ten to around fifty. Both women and men.

There are also Amin and Asad, two young Afghans who speak fluent Finnish and have received Finnish residence permits.

– ‘I wanted something to do after school,’ says Asad, 16.

– ‘I played floorball for the first time at school and loved it right away! This is a fast-paced game and makes you run,’ says Amin, 18.

Neither of the young people had played floorball or other similar sports in their home country. They were inspired to join the motor club floorball practice by an employee at the Red Cross family group home just over a year ago. Since then, they have regularly attended the practice twice a week.


Exercise connects people regardless of home country

Jarmo Koivunen, the secretary of the motor club, is pleased with the floorball team’s foreign reinforcements.

– ‘They have learned to play well. They are even annoyingly nimble,’ Jarmo quips.

Jarmo Korhonen, the secretary of the motor club. Foto: Leena Koskela

The idea of the sports project is to introduce newcomers to Finnish people and vice versa. People exercising together are on a level playing field, regardless of their nationality, social status, age or background community. Sports is something you can share even without a mutual language.

The Red Cross family group home in Lohja has organised various sporting events for its residents with the help of the project and has purchased sports equipment such as floorball sticks. In addition, memberships for the motor club were acquired to allow young asylum seekers and holders of residence permits who have come to Finland alone as minors to have regular floorball practice and access to the gym.

– ‘The best part are the various tournaments that everyone participates in! The residents just totally thrashed us in a floorball game. It was still fun,’ says Heli Suihkola, an instructor at the family group home in Lohja.

Amin and Asad also remember the sweet victory. As well as the combined floorball and futsal tournament, to which the young people from the family group home challenged the motor club members.

– ‘We lost the floorball but won the futsal,’ Amin and Asad say.

Heli Suihkola, an instructor, invited Asad and Amin to the local motor club’s floorball practice. Foto: Leena Koskela


Family in mind every day

Amin and Asad, who came to Finland via Tornio in the autumn of 2015, both received a residence permit four years ago. They study in vocational school; Amin studies vehicles and Asad studies to become an electrician.

Asad hopes to one day bring his family to Finland. The family had to flee from Afghanistan to Pakistan when Asad was three years old. Asad’s father, mother and four siblings are in Pakistan. He misses them a lot.

Amin has not heard from his family since leaving Afghanistan. He has been trying to contact them via the Red Cross tracing work, but to no avail. He has parents and five siblings.

– ‘I am safe now and appreciate it. But I think about my family every day, and one day I will go look for them,’ Amin says sadly.

Amin (left) moved to a rental apartment. Asad lives in the family group home. Foto: Leena Koskela 

The floorball practice continues. It takes away the sorrow and longing for a moment.

– ‘I like sports a lot. I play floorball twice a week and football three times a week,’ Amin describes his hobbies.

– Scoring goals is difficult, I want to learn to be better,’ Asad says.