The Spirit project, led by the Finnish Red Cross, encourages municipalities to be more open to receiving refugees by confronting negative attitudes towards foreigners and raising community awareness about refugees. To do this the project has developed civic participation through volunteering activities related to refugee reception and integration; promoted cooperation between local NGOs and authorities and clarified stakeholders’ mandates and responsibilities. The project has developed guidelines for volunteer activities in reception centres, established a volunteer network and developed support activities for refugees. The project has attracted media attention through awareness-raising events in schools and information seminars on resettlement for municipalities. They have developed a training package to raise awareness about the issues refugees face and how to best respond to refugees’ needs.
In Finland, there is no obligation for municipalities to receive resettled refugees. Satakunta, a Finnish District, noticed that, as a reaction to an increase in asylum- seekers, fewer localities seemed willing to take part in resettling refugees. This created a backlog in the resettlement process, with refugees staying up to two years longer in the country of asylum51 and, upon arrival, spending longer periods in a reception centre waiting to be housed. These delays hinder the integration of those refugees when they finally arrive and, in the meantime, increase their exposure to risks in the country of asylum. It was also important to combat the negative media and public perceptions about refugees and other foreigners in Finland.
Working with cities was challenging due to the highly politicised arena, especially in the run-up to elections (Spring 2011), especially with a right wing party with anti-immigration policies gaining support. In addition, the project covered a large geographical area requiring extensive travel. There were also major delays of an administrative nature at the municipal level.