Finnish Refugee Council has chosen Sara Al Husaini, a student from Espoo, as the Refugee Woman of the year 2021. The Refugee Man of the year 2021 is Ahmed Mesaedy from Tampere.
The Refugee Woman and Man of the Year 2021 are from the same country but tell two different stories. Sara brings to the discussion the voice of a young woman with a refugee background. She was born in a refugee camp and arrived in Finland at the age of less than a month, and as she grew up, she supported her parents in integrating. Ahmed, on the other hand, highlights the perspective of a young man who arrived in a new country in 2015, when the situation with refugees and asylum seekers received a lot of attention both in Finland and globally.
The Refugee woman of the Year 2021 Sara Al Husaini arrived in Finland with her family through resettlement in 1992 when she was less than a month old. Sara was born in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia, where the family had been forced to flee Iraq because of her father’s political opinions.
Sara spent her childhood in Kuopio, which, according to Sara, was a beautiful experience: she shared a good community with the neighbors and did not feel much different from other local children. However, a passport without a country of birth and the fact that other people around her later questioned her Finnishness had an impact on Sara’s mental well-being and identity.
As the Refugee Woman of the Year and because of her own experience, Sara wants to highlight the position of children and young people with a refugee background in a new society. Sara especially wants to talk about the specific roles that children are often placed.
“Children with a refugee background learn and grow up in a new environment, but they often also have to support their parents in integration – for example, to act as an interpreter in various situations, such as parental meeting in school. I also want to pay attention to really seeing these children and understanding their backgrounds.”
Sara, who previously studied at the Universities of Malmö and Oulu and was active in the Student Committee, spent this spring in the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education in Brussels. Sara will start her studies in philology in the upcoming autumn. As the Refugee Woman on the Year 2021, she intends to talk about the issues of equality and the voice of ex-Muslim women.
The Refugee Man of the Year 2021 Ahmed Mesaedy had to flee Iraq due to the unstable social situation and the threatening atmosphere and arrived in Finland as an asylum seeker in 2015. Ahmed, who worked as a lawyer in his home country, travelled across Europe for 23 days and ended up via Tornio to emergency accommodation in Tampere, then through the Kangasala refugee reception center in Harjavalta and from there on to Kokemäki. In 2017, the journey continued from Kokemäki back to Tampere, where Ahmed settled and studied.
A few years after arriving to Finland, Ahmed attended a guidance and counselling services for immigrants as a customer in a place called Kototori. Soon he found himself in the same place as an intern and an employee, guiding and supporting his peers. Ahmed attended expert by experience training organized by Tampere University of Applied Sciences. Since then, he has told his story on various occasions and participated on developing the services of the City of Tampere. Ahmed will soon graduate as a Bachelor of Social Services.
As the Refugee Man of the Year, Ahmed wants to promote equality and the position of people with a refugee and immigrant background in society. He wants to bring forward development targets of the integration system and the disadvantages of working life.
“My goal is to study for a master’s degree in law in Finland and thereby influence the integration system at the legal level. For my part, I want to make sure that all people have 100% equal opportunities in work, education and as members of society. It is particularly important to develop integration as an individual process that considers a people’s unique situations, for example, their educational background and future dreams.”
Finnish Refugee Council Executive Board wants to highlight the different stories and experiences of refugees, support them in their goals and dreams in their new homeland, and make their voices heard in public discussions about immigration. Sara and Ahmed are from the same country but tell two different stories. They courageously bring forward their thoughts for developing integration services based on their own experiences. The winners were announced on Tuesday 22nd of June 2021 in Helsinki.
Additional information and request for interviews:
Marjukka Koskenkorva, Special Advisor for Communications, Finnish Refugee Council
firstname.lastname@example.org, p. 045 133 3803