The Year’s New Citizen of Turku in 2019 is Mari Jurtom. She was born in Estonia. The Multicultural Act of the Year 2019 is awarded to co-operative Shams falafel for social responsibility. Both work towards an increasingly multicultural and tolerant Turku.

The Multicultural Council of Turku selected the laureates based on suggestions made by Turku residents. The acknowledgements are given for the 14th time this year, and the receivers are positive and radiant flag bearers of multiculturalism.

- The receivers of this remarkable and respected award are chosen among more than 20 000 migrants, says Muhis Azizi, Chair of Multicultural Council.

The Year’s New Citizen of Turku in 2019 is constantly building cultural relationships

Mari Jurtom, photo: Juha Laine

This is the first time the Year’s New Citizen of Turku is of Estonian origin even if Turku has for a long time been influenced by a relatively large number of urban residents who have moved from Estonia to Turku. For the moment, there are about 2000 Estonians living in Turku.

According to Turku residents, the Year’s New Citizen of Turku in 2019, Mari Jurtom, has worked hard to develop cultural relations between Finland and Estonia. As the chairman of The Estonian Centre of Southwestern Finland, she has helped the Estonian community in many ways to integrate in the Turku region. The Estonian community is rather discreet compared to its size. Among other things, Mari Jurtom has teached Finnish in Estonia and Estonian in Finland. Furthermore, Mari Jurtom has worked as a translator and she has lectured on Estonian topics for the Finnish public.

- In addition to learning the Finnish language, I suggest all migrants to take up a hobby where they can meet Finns. I have been better acquainted with Turku and its residents through the chorus as a hobby says Mari Jurtom, who has been living in Turku for more than 10 years.

Even if Finland and Estonia are often considered rather similar societies, they have some differences too. The Swedish influence is strong in the Finnish culture, while in Estonia the customs are based on German and Russian traditions.

- There is a difference in celebrating holidays and in complying with the rules. During their longer independence, the Finns have learned to comply with the rules whereas the Estonians usually go around the rules and adapt the rules according to their needs, laughs Mari Jurtom.

The Multicultural Act – an acknowledgement for employing asylum seekers

Shams falafel, the Multicultural Act receiver, operates in a socially and environmentally responsible way and has created jobs for more than ten asylum seekers and for Finnish long-term unemployed people.

Shams falafel started as a small-scale operation, with a record number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland in 2015. Since then, a significant production chain has been built in the co-operative, and Turku together with 26 other locations, has received perhaps the best falafels in the world.

- Migrants are taking part as entrepreneurs in the co-operative. Cooperation has been easy, and it has been going very well, praises Lotta Laaksonen, Chair of the board of the co-operative Shams falafel.

Shams falafel has also helped asylum seekers with issues related to permits and applications in the Finnish system, for example with the company creation and family reunification matters.

Waiting for the delivery of a residence permit is frustrating for asylum seekers so finding an occupation that makes sense in the meantime is essential for them.

- All asylum seekers want to get a job, but even voluntary work is important for them. The related bureaucracy should be undone and getting answers from authorities to practical matters should be made easier, says Lotta Laaksonen. – If you manage to get a job the work permit should be obvious, which is not the case now.

The acknowledgements will be handed at the celebration for new citizens on 9 May 2019

The acknowledgements to the Year’s New Citizen of Turku and the Multicultural Act 2019 will be handed by City Council Chair Elina Rantanen, at a celebration for new citizens of Finland.

The celebration will be organized as a joint event of the municipalities of the Turku region for congratulating more than 400 residents who received Finnish citizenship last year. The speech of the event will be given by Abdel Bettahar, member of Turku Youth Council.