All over the world, we are struggling to adapt to the ‘new normal’ brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a consortium with 25 project partners and 19 supporting partners in 10 European countries, we wanted to ask our stakeholders about the impact of this ‘new normal’ on the lives of immigrants and what it means in terms of local development.

‘New Normal in MATILDE Migration’ interview series continues with the Joensuu District Multicultural Association (JoMoni) from North Karelia. 

JoMoni, established in 2009 Joensuu, North Karelia, is a non-profit civil society organization which aims to promote multiculturalism and prevent discrimination and exclusion of immigrants. To reach these goals, JoMoni organizes sport and cultural activities and participates in public debates. 

Karl Hancock¸ Chairperson of JoMoni, gave us insights about the impact of the pandemic in North Karelia, especially its effects on migrant communities. According to him, one of the most significant effects of COVID-19 among migrants is the social solitude which comes with the isolation periods. 

How has JoMoni’s work with migrants changed after the spread of Covid-19 and the following emergency measures?

Karl Hancock: North Karelia has not been affected dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to other European countries, life has mostly been able to continue normally, albeit with some restrictions and guidelines in place. By December 2020, a second wave of increased cases has been reported in many areas of Finland, with new restrictions being implemented throughout the country. Now, the district of North Karelia is an area where the spread virus is accelerating and stricter measures are in place at least until the end of January 2021.

The activities of JoMoni have undergone some relevant changes during the pandemic: events had to be cancelled or moved online; and weekly activities have been interrupted. The cancellation of activities means that it has been harder to connect with migrants in Joensuu. Online meetings are important to find a connection with people; technological facilities to connect people is valuable in times like these; but they cannot replace the significance of face-to-face meetings.

While JoMoni has been able to continue to work in the community, there is still a feeling of frustration that the Association’s ability to support the migrant community in Joensuu has been interrupted throughout 2020.

What are the common challenges faced by migrants and refugees living in North Karelia during the pandemic? How do they differ from the challenges faced by the local population?

K.H.: In North Karelia, for migrants from all backgrounds, loneliness is the most significant challenge. In contrast to the local population, migrants have been more isolated from friends and family who may live in other parts of Finland or in another country, due to the restrictions that have been put in place. The cancellation of multicultural events and activities this year has also taken away opportunities for migrants to socialise, build local networks and receive support. In general, migrants have been more isolated, because they depend more on public spaces, which give an opportunity to socialise with others.

Refugees are also facing additional challenges, because it is more difficult to get the support they require from the various services. For example, asylum seeking processes have also been delayed due to the current circumstances. This brings more anxiety to  already worried asylum seekers who have to wait for longer periods for clarification about their futures.

What long-term impacts do you think the situation triggered by COVID-19 will have on the population in North Karelia?

K.H.: It is possible that the most significant long-term impact that the pandemic will have on the population in North Karelia will be on mental health. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the isolation periods can cause feelings of loneliness, particularly within the migrant community in North Karelia. Asylum seekers are also in danger of suffering from increased mental health problems, due to the delays in different asylum seeking processes and anxiety caused by extended waiting periods.