UNHCR’s partner Finnish Refugee Council has chosen Lama Kourdi, from Tampere, as the Refugee Woman of the year 2022. The Refugee Man of the year 2022 is Aladdin Delli, also from Tampere, Finland.
© Julius Töyrylä
The Refugee Woman and Man of the Year 2022 are both from Syria. Lama brings to the discussion the voice of a woman who had to flee with her family, and who now wants to promote immigrant women’s rights and inclusion in society. Aladdin, on the other hand, highlights the experience of a deafblind man, who despite doubts has learnt Finnish and now supports other immigrants to settle in Finland.
The Refugee Woman of the Year 2022, Lama Kourdi, arrived in Finland with her husband and firstborn as an asylum seeker in 2015. There was a dreadful journey behind—they had crossed the sea in an inflatable boat, reached countless distances by foot, and spent several nights under the sky.
After getting to Finland, the family was first taken to a reception centre in Helsinki, and after that they spent a year in a reception centre in Seinäjoki. When they finally got a residence permit, they moved to Tampere.
In their first week in Finland, Lama and her husband indicated their willingness to study and work. However, due to the system, things did not happen as quickly as the family hoped. As Lama had no work permit and no opportunity to study Finnish, she volunteered as a language and culture assistant in the local primary school.
When Lama finally got her study permit in 2017, she felt like their life had started. The family found a small but comfortable apartment in Tampere, both parents started studying Finnish, and her husband got a permanent job via job trial in a company where he’s still working today.
After completing a Finnish language course, Lama was told to stay home to wait for the birth of her second child, but she had other plans. She started a work trial at a secondary school as a school attendance assistant and toured hospitals and schools to share her experiences as an expert on various projects.
For Lama, the rights of immigrant women were already at the center of her work and life. Only two weeks after the birth of her son, she set up a club for women in her local housing committee. The club provides a space for women to learn Finnish, and experts like nurses and social workers are invited to the club meetings to talk about different topics.
As the Refugee Woman of the Year, Lama intends to continue to advocate for the well-being and inclusion of immigrant women and children. While involved in various projects, she found that immigrants’ voices are not heard, even though the work is done specifically for them.
“I wish to educate women on their rights and encourage them to study. Increasing professionals’ understanding is also important because misunderstandings and assumptions arise if the parties are unfamiliar with each other’s cultures or religions,” says Lama, who is now expecting her third child and finishing her studies in social services.
The Refugee Man of the Year, Aladdin Delli, arrived in Finland with his brother as a quota refugee in April 2019. There was an unstable life behind him in the middle of the war in Syria, followed by two and a half tough years spent in Russia. Aladdin had received a visa to Russia for eye surgery, as he had lost sight of one eye when he was only 7-years old, and due to illness, the eyesight in his other eye also deteriorated.
In his eye surgery in Russia, Aladdin lost his sight permanently due to malpractice. At the same time, his hearing also declined significantly. Despite his disabilities, Aladdin and his brother worked in a clothing factory 10 hours a day for two years, where Aladdin did not receive any assistance. Finally, the brothers got asylum in Finland.
Immediately after getting to Finland, Aladdin was interested in the Finnish language and Finnish culture. In less than two years after coming to Finland, Aladdin had mastered the language and got an internship at the Tampere Vocational College as an assistant to a Finnish language teacher. Inspired by the lessons, he also made an instructional video on how to pronounce Finnish for YouTube.
Aladdin’s motivation to learn the language was to enter the labour market, but also to be able to help others. In the future, he wishes to continue to teach Finnish to other immigrants. Although things are more challenging as a person with disabilities, and some have doubted his chances along the way, with the right kind of support and assistance, Aladdin believes that anything is possible.
Aladdin is active in the Suurella Sydämellä volunteering network that supports refugees’ integration into Finland. As a volunteer, Aladdin helps refugees to know their new hometown and the Finnish culture and language. He hopes to pursue such activities also as the Refugee Man of the Year.
“I hope to be an inspiration to other refugees who have come to Finland and who think that the Finnish language or survival in a new environment is difficult. I want to encourage them: Learning the Finnish language is the key to living in Finland,” Aladdin reflects.
Finnish Refugee Council Executive Board wants to highlight the different stories and experiences of refugees, support them in their goals and dreams in their new homeland, and make their voices heard in public discussions about immigration. Lama and Aladdin are open about their stories and their lives in Finland. They courageously bring forward their thoughts for developing integration services based on their own experiences. The winners were announced on Monday 20th of June 2022 on World Refugee Day in Helsinki.