Today, our main goal was to take steps toward improved immigrant and refugee integration into Finnish society. This morning, I met with Panu Laturi, a Finnish politician from the Green League. Together, we discussed ways to support refugees and immigrants so that they can lead successful, safe, and healthy lives. My primary message: nations avoid problems with extremism, crime, and strain on their economies when individuals are not left without their basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education. Further, women in particular must be reached via creative and sensitive methods. I shared specific and tangible ideas with him about how Finland – a nation with a small but growing population of refugees and immigrants – can support women and youth, empowering them to be effective members of their new society. It is clear that both Panu and the Green League are committed to a proactive, human-rights centered approach to immigration and refugee orientation. I’m truly hopeful about Finland as a place where minorities can succeed – exactly because the country is thinking about challenges and ways to address them even before they arise.
Next, I met with a faculty member from the University of Helsinki. A specialist in International Law and a native of the Netherlands, she was able to provide me with some yet unheard insight about the case of Geert Wilders. Some of her assertions and observations were truly compelling – and unlike anything shared with most residents of the United States. More on Wilders at some point soon to come.
Finally, I had the extraordinary honor of meeting Batulo Essak and visiting Helsinki’s HIV/AIDS support center. The experience was a phenomenal one. From her work with HIV/AIDS patients, to her role as a politician and the many initiatives she spearheads to improve the lives of women and girls in Somalia (from campaigns against female genital mutilation, supporting women’s enterprise and education, counseling couples and individuals on sexual health, relationship matters and more) – Batulo is a force to be reckoned with! We have already come up with some concrete and major ways to collaborate in order to improve HIV/AIDS services for Finland’s newest residents.
And oh yes – I walked (along the frozen Baltic) to visit Finland’s Presidential Palace. Madame President herself was home! (No, we didn’t meet and share Finland’s best coffee, though it is wonderful and a Moccamaster is totally on my Eid-list. Rather, I learned that when the flag is raised and two soldiers are standing guard, President Tarja Halonen is at home.)
Remember to check out my Finland photo album – I’ll keep updating it as much as I can while I’m here!