by Eva Rönkkö
In the last week of May, a group of ENIEC members met in a webinar to discuss how are older migrants coping during this Covid-19 pandemic. The webinar was organized by ENIEC members in Finland, the same group who were to organize the annual meeting of our network in Tallinn last March. The restrictions of public life all over Europe canceled events this year. However, we wanted to be in touch with our colleagues in Europe, to share our own experiences of this exceptional situation and to hear what has been done in other countries, and how have issues concerning older migrants been solved. This gave rise to the idea of organizing a webinar, both for our ENIEC friends but also for others interested in the situation of older migrants.
We compiled the content of the webinar from a survey conducted by five organizations in April-May. in Finland. Our goal was to gather the information that our group instructors heard during telephone conversations with the elderly participants. We were particularly interested in how and where people get information about the exception period, how they understand it, and how they got along with the situation. The phone calls often took a long time, as the elderly had a need to talk, being isolated from the rest of the world.
As a result of the data collection, we received confirmation that the authorities did not reach the minority older people well enough. There was a difference between the language groups in who mainly received the information. When Estonians watched Finnish television, Russian-speakers followed Russian media. Somalian-speakers, on the other hand, received the best information from their own group instructors. The support networks that are trusted are different from group to group.
Following up one’s own domestic media sources was problematic in many ways. Although contact with the country of birth also brought security, conflicting information was also obtained. The corona situation was at different stages in different countries, and state restrictions and guidelines were not the same. It gave rise to many kinds of cross-disputes about how Finland should act, whether to wear masks, whether to go out, etc.
The information we gathered was full of a wide range of emotions f.ex. ignorance, fears and worries. The fears were deep and existential. “My only daughter got stuck in Russia, I don’t want to die alone.” In addition to the situation and guidelines in Finland, monitoring the domestic situation raised concerns and people became tired as the situation prolonged. There was a need for meeting relatives and friends, as well as the many group activities our organizations have organized over the years. Popular outdoor activities in Finland, such as walking in the nature, were also a lifeline for immigrants during the quarantine period.
In addition to the situation in Finland, we heard from Jennifer van den Broeke about her experiences in the Netherlands, and Tina Pan and Elzbieta Czapka about starting their research in Belgium and Norway. The situation was similar across Europe, those belonging to minorities are not reached with important information either, and organizations come to the aid in giving out the information and combating false information. The videos made in Pharos (The Netherlands) were of interest to the webinar participants and links to these were immediately available for sharing.
On behalf of the organizers, we were pleased with the discussion that took place and the connection that we could also have online. This is how we all can share experiences and cope better. The organization of these kind of webinars could be a good way to share and discuss with each other between our Annual Meetings, even if the situation would otherwise return to normal. We at ENIEC have a wide range of expertise to share and maybe it’s also one opportunity to get new people to come to our network.