When Ammar Alobaidi, an Iraqi, arrived to Joensuu in 2015, the future looked uncertain. There was no returning to his homeland, and whether he would be granted asylum in Finland was not yet certain. Although he did not have much, the most valuable things remained: his remarkable skill as a barber and a yearning for normal daily life.

Ammar Alobaidi was still a young man when he studied to become a barber in Baghdad. He left Iraq for Malaysia when he was 18 years old and worked as a barber to fund his studies in marketing. However, Malaysia turned its back on the young refugee. He had to leave again.

– Wherever I have been, I have always pursued work as a barber – even for free, like I did in the Keuruu asylum reception centre. It was important to keep in touch with the job, says Alobaidi, who built on his expertise further in Malaysia by studying hairdressing.

Support from the work community

When Alobaidi was encouraged by a friend to come to Joensuu, he soon got to take part in a work try-out in a hair salon of Pohjois-Karjalan Osuuskauppa (North Karelia retail cooperative). People were impressed by his expertise as a hairdresser. For PKO, who had a shortage of workers, finding such a multi-skilled worker was a source of joy, as they soon discovered that the man was also exceptionally skilled at handling beards.

– My cousin had lived in Finland and told me many good things about this place. I soon noticed that all the good things said were true – I have found a real family in the work community of PKO’s Prisma’s hair salon! I am so happy and grateful for all the help and support and the attitude that I was welcomed with.

Freedom!

Though a good work community is of major importance when moving to a new country and city, even more important is the personal desire to feel at home in the new place. Alobaidi was highly motivated. To him, normal daily life is itself a luxury.

– I want to live in Joensuu and work and feel at home as much as the natives of Joensuu do. Home, workplace, work community, friends and the most important thing in Finland: freedom! Finns may take freedom for granted, but I do not. I take pleasure in freedom every day when I go to work, to swim and to meet friends.

Ammar Alobaidi has a residence permit for an employed person that is valid until 2023. He aims to get a permanent residence permit. The hairdresser has a broad and dedicated customer base; the bush-telegraph has been busy since the word first began spreading.

I have found a real family in the work community!

– There were some mutual reservations at first. The Finnish language also felt difficult. However, it did not take long for openness to win over prejudice. I have many foreign customers from the US, the Netherlands and the Philippines, for example. There are all kinds of people who have come to Joensuu for very different reasons. I enjoy talking with my customers – by now I can chat in Finnish, too.

“We need you”

Many of Alobaidi’s friends live in Europe, and some of his Iraqi family members also live outside Iraq. His sister and brother remain in their home country, and Ammar Alobaidi recently got to visit them after a separation of seven years.

The security situation in Iraq is bad. The travelling report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland warns about Kurdistan as well, the slightly calmer northern part of Iraq where the Alobaidi siblings had arranged to meet for safety reasons. The battle against the extremist organisation ISIS still continues in Iraq. The risk of terrorist attacks is high in most parts of the country.

– When I arrived at the airport in Iraq, I was treated in a hostile manner, pushed and shoved. When I left Finland, I met a friendly police officer at the airport. The officer wished me a good trip and told me to come back soon – that they need me here, the lively and cheerful hairdresser Ammar Alobaidi says with a smile.

Text: Sirkka-Liisa Aaltonen/Viestintä-Ässä