Puheenvuoro 3: Diaspora Palestinians in Finland

Osama Alaloulou

Prior to the 1948 war, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians lived in their homeland. Today estimations tell that the Palestinian population consists of around 10.1 million; more than 6.5 million of them live in worldwide or in al-shatat (Diaspora). The term Diaspora originates from the Greek diasperiein that means disperse or scatter and describes people that find themselves separated from their homeland.  

The Diaspora is composed of those expelled from their homes after the Israeli Independence in 1948 and mainly during the Six-Day War in 1967 as well as many who joined the Diaspora in the following years. Most of the Diaspora Palestinians remained in neighboring countries in particular, trying to be as close as possible to their homes of origin, assuming that the end of armed conflict would help them to return.

Decades passed, but their dream never came to existence yet. Their numbers decreased over time, in addition to instability and internal troubles in the host states, many of them migrated to Europe.

Britain was the first direction as it was the ruling authority in Palestine during 1920 and 1948, it followed from that, and as has been noted in other colonial situations, colonized people frequently gravitate towards the country of their colonizer.

Many students and wealthy people migrated to the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavians after the unrest in Gulf States and Lebanon in 1980’s. In addition to small number of Palestinian refugees taken from refugee camps, few hundred found Finland as next destination.

Palestinians have watched the painful developments in their homeland with desperate feelings to affect the situation on the ground. Their other option has been being adequately represented in the host society. The Palestinian Refugee Community in Finland is example of several Palestinian civil society associations that have been active for decades.

They have been founded to support the Diaspora Palestinians to preserve the Palestinian identity and upgrading of the Palestinians living in Finland in all cultural, social, and political domains. In addition to enriching the Finnish-Palestinian relations, those associations work to meet the need to overcome the difficulties in order to cope with the Finnish society.

In Finland, Palestinian asylum-seekers often “disappear,” because they tend to be subsumed under general categories of “stateless” persons or are registered according to their place of birth or the host country that issued their travel documents.

Even though, Finland has upgraded the status of the Palestinian representative missions, Palestine is still not fully considered to be a sovereign state. That means the diplomatic relations are limited, plus, the lack of Finnish recognition of Palestinian official documents like passports for example, is an obstacle for those Palestinians who are willing to travel to Finland.

23 years old Fatima expressed her gratitude to Finland saying:

“I, with my friend Nada who has the Palestinian Authority passport, went to the Finnish Representative Office of Finland in Ramallah to apply for the Finnish visa. The Finnish officials rejected Nada´s application because she has no other country´s citizenship, for me the issue was different because I already have the Jordanian passport.”

She continues: “everything became easy as I arrived, I acquired a refugee status and started to go to learn Finnish, and I receive monthly payment so I can pay the rent and survive.”

Azzam, a Palestinian and a resident of Helsinki, tells his story and complains about the way Finns image of refugees by saying:

“I was born in al-Yarmouk camp in Syria. My family fled from their homes in Palestine in 1948, and lived for 55 years as refugees in Syria, without citizenship or human rights. I grew up stateless under unbearable hardship and I had to live every day of my life persecuted. I had no right to own or inherit property, access public healthcare or job.

My 15 years old sister Khadija was kidnapped in 1993. We later on got to know that a Syrian military officer kidnapped her; we were unable to find him. We informed the authorities, placed posters of her everywhere, but nothing happened. Almost 2 years after her disappearance, she came home. She told us her horrific story. She had been kept in the house of that man and was raped several times. A few weeks after she was back to us, we found out that she was pregnant.”

Few years ago, I could come to Finland as a refugee. I have been treated in the hospital to overcome the Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome I have: thanks to the Finnish government. Some Finnish people have an idea that refugees are lazy and burden on their country. We are not lazy; we are only victims of the circumstances.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja during his last visit to Gaza stated: “For us in Finland, the image of Palestine is a dream not yet fulfilled, a dream of self-determination, of becoming a united and independent nation and of creating a viable state.”

I come from there and I have memories
Born as mortals are, I have a mother
And a house with many windows,
I have brothers, friends, and a prison cell with a cold window
I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland…

Palestinian Poet: Mohmoud Darwish