Finland tries occupying idle asylum seekers with berry-picking


Although tasty and health-giving berries such as bilberry, whortleberry and salmonberry abound in Nordic forests, picking them in swampy and mosquito-infested Finnish woods is quite a challenge. Traditionally, the Finnish berry-picking industry has been dominated by foreign labor. Last year’s influx of asylum-seekers from the Middle East led to a marked increase in Iraqi laborers toiling in Finnish Forests.



At the beginning of the summer, Rovaniemi-based health food manufacturer Arctic Warriors was in trouble. The company was launching a new product, for which thousands of kilos of spruce tips were needed, but was left stranded with a lack of personnel. Luckily for them, local asylum accommodation in Ranua stepped in and filled the void. According to Arctic Warriors product manager Katja Misikangas, school was already over and underage asylum-seekers basically had nothing to do, so they were really keen about the job offer.


“They were really enthusiastic about the job. Just for the sake comparison: Finnish pickers harvest about 80 kilos of spruce tips on the average, whereas asylum-seekers got over 1,200 kilograms,” Misikangas pointed out to Finnish newspaper Kauppalehti.


As regards to berry-picking, asylum-seekers face fierce competition. According to the Finland’s Foreign Ministry, a record 14,500 berry-pickers from other countries came in to Finland this year. Of these, 9,000 are Ukrainian citizens.


Last year’s migrant crisis brought tens of thousands of new people to Finland. In 2015 alone, Nordic country took in 32,476 asylum-seekers. However, their employment poses significant difficulties, since the newcomers are not automatically enlisted at the country’s Employment Service and reception centers have limited resources to identify their professional and language skills. At present, thousands of asylum-seekers are still waiting for application decisions and are left with no meaningful occupation.


Earlier, Justice Minister Jari Lindström of the Finns Party proposed seasonal jobs such as berry-picking to help the newcomers accommodate to Finland’s labor market.


A number of reception centers have reportedly tried this idea. According to Sirpa Kansanaho, director of Oulu reception center, asylum-seekers are not accustomed to moving in the forest and picking berries, but would be happy if someone volunteered as a guide.


Interior Minister Paula Risikko of the National Coalition Party said that people who are currently on the waiting list should have the opportunity to do something meaningful. According to the law, however, all activities must be organized within a reception center or on its territory, which naturally limits the possibilities, Finnish newspaper Wasabladet reported.


In reality, most often it is cleaning jobs and other maintenance work. Risikko advocated abolishing the restrictions to make it easier for Finland to take advantage of people’s knowledge and abilities.





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