Since 2011, Punkalaidun, a rural municipality in South-West Finland, has been investing in the integration and welfare of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers with the help of two LEADER projects.
The municipality has implemented an integration project with the support of the Joutsenten Reitti LEADER Local Action Group (LAG). An ‘immigration coordinator’ was hired in 2011. Her main role has basically been problem-solving and bridge-building between the newcomers (from Myanmar and Syria) and Punkalaidun residents, notably through social activities including football and tango dancing, but also education and employment.
The refugees have had a very positive impact on the local economy; the Finnish state pays for most of their service needs, their living and daily subsistence, and even though this daily subsistence allowance is not high, refugees have brought a new financial input into Punkalaidun’s economy, increasing the sales of local shops, cafes and restaurants.
The Joutsenten Reitti LAG is now thinking of launching its next project phase which could involve inter-territorial or transnational cooperation to share good practices.