Enhancing refugee youth’s sustainable well-being through co-research and story-telling

Tiina Rättilä & Päivi Honkatukia (eds)

Research publication on the ALL-YOUTH project’s studies in Finland among young men and women with refugee background. The publication is edited by PhD Tiina Rättilä and Professor Päivi Honkatukia from Tampere University, Finland.


In this publication we present and discuss studies conducted in coopera¬tion with some thirty young adult men and women with refugee background living in Finland, including youth work professionals working with youth in the local NGOs. In the studies we have explored the experiences of the refugee youth going through education and attaining a position in the Finnish working life, pondering also what could be done about the manifold problems they encounter while pursuing their education and work goals. The studies accounted in the publication are part of a more thorough ALL-YOUTH research project. They have been carried out in Tampere University and the University of Eastern Finland during 2018–2019. The publication comprises eight story-like article texts in which altogether thirteen authors recount with varying perspectives their research and youth work projects with the refugee youth.

The starting point of the studies was the prior knowledge that youth with refugee backgrounds often find themselves socially excluded in Finland, feeling they have no avenues to influence how they are being treated in society. Most of them have come to Finland as asylum seekers from traumatic, insecure circumstances. Many suffer from a variety of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and lack of supportive social networks. When, or if, granted temporary or permanent residence permit, refugee youth are nonetheless often left without proper education and prospects for a decent job, thus ending up in a highly marginalised societal position. Experiences like these inevitably influence their well-being and capabilities to manage school, studies, work and social life.

In the studies discussed in the publication we have addressed such problems from the perspective of the youth themself. In doing so, we have had three objectives. First, we have wanted to listen to and make visible the youths’ life stories as they have been ready to share them with us. Second, we have attempted to support the youth to recognise their own strengths and capabilities and inspire them to pursue their dreams and goals in society. Third, we have explored whether, and how, refugee youth’s well-being and societal agency can be enhanced through arts-based coaching methods, such as photographing and applied theatre.

Our methodology is based on the idea of co-research, meaning that from the start we have included the youth in the research process(es) as equal partners, not as ‘objects’ of research. Accordingly, the youth were involved in deciding what to study and how. In our orienting discussions the youth found questions of belonging and work to be the most central for their life contexts, and those issues we have focused on. The youth have participated in the research by conducting peer interviews and analysing data together with the researchers. We have also co-authored some publications, blogs and research articles, together.

The articles of the publication discuss from various standpoints how important – and at the same time difficult – it is for the youth with refugee backgrounds to be accepted by society and included among the other Finns. This is why they generally find it crucial to get vocational or higher education and find reasonably paid work. Yet, when going after their goals they end up facing many obstacles, which often have to do with the structural and every-day racism embedded in society. Still, despite having to deal with a lot of inequalities they stress that refugee and other immigrant youth must be prepared to work harder than others to receive education and find work, if they want to become recognised by the rest of society. We as researchers deem this to be unfair, but it is daily reality for those young people with refugee background living under discrimination.