Towards the new UArctic research network on Arctic migration

4.1.2017 8:00

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.

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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.

How come?

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 countries.

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.

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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 Arctic.

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 new employees.

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