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Crossing Europe alone: Seeking safety in Finland

Crossing Europe alone: Seeking safety in Finland

After a long and emotional journey to Europe, young refugees are able to start a new life in Finland with the help of SOS Children’s Villages. Fifteen teenagers recently moved into the group home in Jyväskylä, a city in western Finland. Here, two of the boys, who journeyed from Afghanistan and Iraq, share their harrowing experiences.

Babur was just 16 when he took the risky decision to travel from Afghanistan to Europe with smugglers. His parents had died and he feared what would become of him and his sister. From Afghanistan, he and his sister travelled together to Iran where he worked undocumented to save money. When he'd saved enough money, Babur decided it was time to leave Iran and seek a better life in Europe. His sister made the difficult decision to stay with an uncle in Iran.

Babur's route took him from Iran to Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Sweden and, finally, Finland. The difficult and often treacherous journey took him several months. On more than one occasion Babur had to wait in border queues for five days. He didn't know what to expect when he arrived in Finland.

“They told me that there’s a good and peaceful country called Finland far away in the north. This is a good place to live and I would like to stay if they let me,” says Babur.

Sadly, he hasn’t been able to get in touch with my sister since leaving Iran.

Rashidi’s story

Rashidi is 17 and also from Afghanistan. Like Babur, he arrived in Finland alone. Rashidi was meant to depart from Kabul with his father, mother and younger brother. However, when the smugglers and Rashidi made the switch to a new lorry, his family were left behind. Making the journey without his family was a terrifying experience, especially crossing the sea at night in a tiny rubber dingy with 45 other people. They inflated rubber boat themselves, not knowing who would survive the boat journey and who would be lost at sea.  

“They told us that we’d be travelling in a big ship. When the truth came out, it was too late to go back. We were forced into the boat at gunpoint,” Rashidi explains.

Things started to look up for Rashidi when he arrived in Finland. Fortunately, his sister was already living in the country with a residence permit. Rashidi has also been able to connect with his parents via telephone and the Internet when he arrived at the SOS facility in Jyväskylä.

“It’s hard to talk to mum on the phone because she can’t stop crying. I think about my family a lot and miss them, but I don’t miss Afghanistan. Luckily, I know that my family is all right.”

Rashidi explains that sometimes he feels guilty that he is able to build a new life in Finland.“I used to think: ‘What am I doing here?’ Luckily, everything has gone well. I’ve made new friends and learned the language. I can relax here and I feel safe.”

Two young refugees in Finland enjoy their downtime.
Two young residents of the SOS group home in Finland enjoy their downtime.

Young people at risk

Unaccompanied or separated children and young people are one of the most vulnerable groups caught up in the refugee crisis. According to Eurostat, in 2015 about 90,000 asylum applicants to EU countries were unaccompanied minors. Of them, more than 2,500 of the applicants were registered in Finland.

SOS Children’s Villages is providing care, education and other support to unaccompanied or separated children and young people affected by the refugee crisis in 10 countries. In Finland, SOS Children’s Villages is operating several small group homes for young asylum seekers without parental care. In their new accommodation, young people like Babur and Rashidi receive the care, security and support they need.

After settling into their new home at the SOS facility, the boys enrolled at preparatory education classes at a nearby school. In just four months the fifteen boys started picking up Finnish, the common language spoken in the group home.

“What I like most is the boys’ attitude,” says educator Sami Paltamaa. “They are really motivated to learn the language and genuinely want to be a part of this society. They are also extremely well-behaved, friendly and hard-working. Other kids could learn a lot from them.”

SOS Children's Villages is helping vulnerable children who have been forced from their homes. Please help us reach even more vulnerable children like Babur and Rashidi. Donate to our Emergency Relief Fund. 


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