The Finnish Refugee Council has appointed Rand Mohamad Deeb, a graduating high school senior from Lahti, as Refugee Woman of the Year and Nourdeen Toure, a professional boxer from Helsinki, as Refugee Man of the Year.
© Enni Kallio
In 2014, the family of Rand Mohamad Deeb escaped war-torn Syria. Three years later, the Deeb family arrived in Finland as quota refugees. Despite her young age of 18 years, Deeb has achieved a lot in Finland in a short time. Five months after she arrived in Finland, she enrolled at a Finnish high school. Graduating this spring, Deeb is now preparing for the admission examinations to study medicine at the University of Helsinki to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
“I was told that graduating high school is not a realistic goal for an immigrant in Finland.”
According to Deeb, her dreams have not always seemed easy to achieve. “When I arrived in Finland, many immigrants said Finnish was a terribly difficult language to learn. I was told that graduating high school is not a realistic goal for an immigrant in Finland,” Deeb says.
As the Refugee Woman of the Year, Deeb wants to show people with an immigrant background that learning Finnish and studying is possible in Finland. Helping others is very important to Deeb: “I studied Finnish for eight hours a day to understand its logic. I would like to make it easier for others, which is why I make Arabic teaching videos on YouTube. Learning a language in your own mother tongue is much easier,” she continues.
The Refugee Man of the Year, Nourdeen Toure, 28, is as determined to make his dreams come true as Deeb. Toure, who left his home country Togo and arrived in Finland alone at the age of 20, travelled for two years through several countries. It was a lonely time: “At first, my only family in Finland was the police and the Finnish Immigration Service,” Toure says.
Shortly after his arrival in Finland, Toure started boxing with the goal of becoming Finland’s boxing champion. Although Toure did not have a boxing background before coming to Finland, he first competed at a professional level in 2014. Toure is coached by Pekka Mäki, who coaches other top boxers in Finland.
Through the boxing circles Toure made friends, which made Finland feel like home for the first time. According to Toure, it has been easy to get to know Finns, especially young people to whom multiculturalism is ordinary. Exercise and hobbies have been an important way for Toure to integrate, and he would like other immigrants to have the same opportunity.
The board of the Finnish Refugee Council annually appoints two Refugees of the Year. With this year’s awards, the board wants to highlight the active role of young refugees in society. Deeb and Toure are both courageous, ambitious and positive. They are not only great role models for other young immigrants, but for all young people in Finland.
The award for the Refugee Woman of the Year has been assigned every year since 1998 and the Refugee Man of the Year since 2016. The purpose of the Refugee Awards is to support refugees in realizing their own goals and dreams in their new home country and to provide encouraging examples of successful integration. The awards ceremony was held on Wednesday the 24th of April in Helsinki.