In 2017 a new research team for the Arctic Centre and a new UArctic Thematic Network in the field of Arctic migration might be established. Nafisa Yeasmin, researcher of the Arctic Centre and initiator of the network, explains why there is a need to create a cross-national group of scientists researching the topic of migration to the North.
Photo by Agata Mazepus
When have you come up with the idea to create a network of researchers whose work focuses on the topic of Arctic migration?
This idea came to my mind already a couple of years ago. When I had
started my study on migration in the Arctic in 2012 I realized that in
the area of my interest at that time there was no single person that
would do this kind of research.
There was, of course, research about migration within the Arctic but not
about migration to the Arctic. Although mobility means both migration
and immigration, these are two different things. While migration means
mobility from a one city to another within a country or a region, Arctic
immigration concerns mobility to the Northern regions from non-Arctic
What does the research on this particular type of mobility in the Arctic concern?
We research the status and lives of those who come to the Arctic region.
One example relates to refugees that are coming to all of the Arctic
countries, both legally and illegally.
Was this topic not present in the UArctic before?
At one point I have realized that at every meeting of the UArctic the
topics concerned mainly industries, environmental issues, and the
situation of the indigenous peoples. These issues are of course very
important, however, there was nothing about the immigrants and
minorities living in the Arctic other than indigenous ones. This
realization inspired me to start working towards creating the group of
researchers that would consider these topics.
How did you implement the idea to create a research network?
I decided to talk about it to Timo Koivurova, the director of the Arctic
Centre. Timo has started his own research group on law and governance
in our institution, so I knew that he is the right person to discuss my
plans. I have also reached out to institutions outside Finland to find
out whether others also feel that such network is needed. For example, I
contacted Nordregio, a Stockholm-based research institution focusing on
urban and regional development studies.
Everyone agreed that there is a need to create a network in this field
as even if there are other researchers who are interested in the Arctic
migration this topic is treated rather scatteredly. In order to
successfully approach it, the forces should be joined in a network.
How does a group of researchers become a research network under UArctic?
All thematic networks have to be presented in front of the general
assembly of the University. As the next such meeting takes place in
August 2017, we are going to apply for a status of an official thematic
network of the UArctic next June. It would be a great opportunity for us
because thanks to the official status we could apply for research
grants as a network.
Despite lack of the official status, is the network already working?
Yes, we are already a network and even though we do not have an official
status yet, this year we already organized two workshops.
How come such network was not created earlier? Is this because
the migration to the Arctic region a new issue that arose around the
migration crisis of 2015? Or was this topic relevant before as well?
The migration to the Arctic region is not a new thing. Nonetheless, the
big and sudden influx of people to the North in 2015 made everyone
understand that there is a need to work on solutions to the question of
how to deal with the problems arousing from the migration.
Arctic societies came to realization that they need migrants due to the
demographic challenges they are currently facing. However, not all of
them know how to deal with the migration issues.
Some countries, such as Sweden and Norway have long-term plans for
migration-related issues and were quite well-prepared to integrate new
waves of migrants having ready-on policies that only needed to be
implemented when the refugees reached them.
Photo (Agata Mazepus): Nafisa explains objectives of the FOLO
project during Symposium on Arctic Migration held in the Arctic Centre
on December 7, 2016
What are the most important topics for the researchers who investigate the issues related to the Arctic Migration?
In my opinion, socio-economic integration is at the moment the most important issue.
People who come to the Arctic look for the security not only in the
sense of being safe from the war, but also in terms of the economic
safety. Without food, clothing, and meeting other basic needs people
cannot live nor function well in any society. Therefore, economic
solvency is crucial. As welfare countries, Arctic societies need to find
ways to provide such solvency.
On the other hand, social integration and inclusion are very important.
We should educate the society about the migrants as the attitudes of the
society towards the migrants and vice versa are crucial for the
peaceful coexistence of all peoples.
Do you think that the research concerning Arctic migration could help policymakers with finding solutions for these issues?
Of course, researchers’ work can be a great help for the policymakers.
For instance, research could be helpful in determining the costs and
benefits for the host countries of accepting refugees and migrants to
Arctic societies. Another example would be finding solutions to the
demographic and economic crises societies are facing as research can
provide guidance on how the skills and human capital offered by
immigrants could be used for our benefit. Researchers can also help
policymakers in identifying good examples and practices from all around
the world, from example Canada, which could be implemented in the
A good example of how theory can help the practice is your project FOLO.
FOLO, the Foreign Lounge, is a project aiming to support immigrants to
get access to the labor market in Finnish Lapland. The reason why we
decided to launch such project is that some immigrants live in Lapland
for several years already and they are unable to find full-time jobs.
Even though they often have good education and work experience, they
struggle to find a stable job in their field.
Therefore, we aim to create a model of economic integration of the
well-educated immigrants. It is not easy as the economic situation in
the whole Europe is not ideal and in Lapland almost all the companies
are very small often operating as family business without a need to hire
Even though it is challenging, we do our best. One of our priorities is
trying to combat the stereotype that all immigrants are uneducated and
do not speak the language. We arrange meetings between potential
employers and job seekers so that business owners realize that
immigrants are able to adapt to the Finnish work environment.
We hope that with both the theory and practice researchers will
contribute to a better management of the immigration problems Arctic
region faces today.
Interview: Agata Mazepus / Arctic Centre