Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 16:41 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Finland

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date August 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Finland, August 2011, available at: [accessed 20 November 2017]
Comments In October 2015, MRG revised its World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. For the most part, overview texts were not themselves updated, but the previous 'Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples' rubric was replaced throughout with links to the relevant minority-specific reports, and a 'Resources' section was added. Refworld entries have been updated accordingly.
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last updated: August 2011


Finland is located in northern Europe and shares land borders with Sweden, Norway and Russia. The Åland Islands (off the south- western coast) have a special autonomy arrangement while remaining under Finnish sovereignty.


What is now Finland belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden from the twelfth century to 1809, when the area, including the Åland Islands, was ceded to Russia. Finland declared independence in 1917, and its 1919 Constitution gave it a parliamentary system with a strong presidency. Finnish and Swedish - but not Sami - were both designated national languages. The Soviet Union was one of the first states to recognize Finland, and the two maintained good relations; the former was the market for 25 per cent of Finland's exports in the 1980s. Finland joined the European Union in 1995.

Russians who settled in Finland from the eighteenth century to the aftermath of the First World War are often referred to as Old Russians. The first group of Russians settled in the eastern province of Karelia. Old Russian communities in and around Helsinki, Turku and Tampere are mostly the descendants of civil servants, officers and merchants who settled during the nineteenth century. They may also be descendants of people who fled from the Russian Revolution. The most recent group of Russians in Finland (so-called New Russians) immigrated from the 1960s onwards and especially since 1991.

Islamic Tatars came to Finland from the Sergatch region on the Volga from the 1880s to the 1920s. They were merchants and settled mainly in the Helsinki area. In 1925 they founded the first Finnish Islamic congregation.


Main languages: Finnish, Swedish, Sami

Main religions: Evangelical Lutheran Christianity, Finnish Orthodox

Minority groups include 289,609 Swedish-speakers (5.5%), 42,182 Russian-speakers (data: Statistics Finland, 2006), some 7,500 Sami, 10,000 Roma/Gypsies (0.19%), 1,300 Jews, 800 Tatars and 2,500-5,000 Old Russians.(1)

Swedish-speakers live mostly in the coastal regions of Österbotten, Nyland and Åboland, and on the Åland Islands.

Sami are the country's only indigenous minority. Most of them live in northernmost Lapland, in an area known as the 'Sami Homeland'. There is a far larger population in Norway, and they are also found in Sweden and Russia.

Roma/Gypsies of the eastern Kale group settled in Finland at the end of the sixteenth century and mostly live in urban areas.

Russian-speakers are partly a historical minority and partly new immigrants, some with Finnish citizenship and some non-citizens. The number of Old Russians has been estimated at 2,500 to 5,000.(2) Old Russians fall within the rubric of minority protection Finland has entered into as part of its obligations under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities - the key European treaty on minority groups. Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union do not. The Union of Finland's Russian-Speaking Societies has criticized the division into the Old Russians and the so-called New Russians, made for the purposes of the implementation of the Framework Convention, as being at best artificial and misleading, and at worse unfounded and useless.

Jews first arrived in Sweden-Finland during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Present-day Finnish Jews, numbering approximately 1,300,(3) descend mainly from later arrivals of Russian origin. In 1918, after Finland gained independence, Jews were granted full rights as citizens. The Jews moving to Finland in the eighteenth century spoke Russian and Yiddish and, upon settling in Finland, chose Swedish as their first language. In 1932 it was decided that the language of instruction at the Jewish school in Helsinki should be Finnish instead of Swedish. Jews are basically bilingual, though the younger ones tend to be increasingly unilingual Finnish-speaking.

According to government documents in 2007, Tatars number about 800, although the total number of Muslims in Finland (many of them recent immigrants from various countries in the Islamic world) is unofficially estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000. Tatars have kept their Turkic language alive, using it mainly in family and private life. Their religious organization arranges the regular teaching of Turkic to children, and there are summer camp courses in Turkic.


The Swedish language remains protected under the provisions of the Finnish Constitution and the language legislation as an official language alongside Finnish. Swedish schools and institutes of higher education continue to ensure the future of Swedish language and culture. However, emigration to Sweden and the low birth rate among Swedish Finns mean that the proportion of younger age groups is decreasing, leading to a population decline.

Prospects for Finnish Sami, as for all Sami, involve the struggle to maintain their culture as their traditional northern reindeer grazing lands are increasingly exploited by modern industry. Their main priority remains to protect their wildlife resources for sustainable use.

The far-right True Finns party gained 19 per cent of votes in the 2011 election, becoming the third largest party in parliament. Its success has added to concerns over the growing support for right-wing nationalist parties across Scandinavia.



Minority based and advocacy organisations


Ålands Lagting (Ålandic Parliament)
Tel: +358 (0)18 25 000

Ombudsman for Minorities, Ministry of Labour
Tel: +358 (0) 10 60 4001

Amnesty International Finland
Tel: +358 (0) 693 1488

Finnish Helsinki Committee
Tel: +358 (0) 135 1470, +358 9 4155 2555

Finnish Islamic Congregation [Tatar]
Tel: +358 9 643 579, +385 40 5350017 (chairman Okan Daher)
Email:, (chairman Okan Daher)

Forum of Russian-Speakers in Finland
Tel: +358 19 544 868

Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Academy University
Tel: +358 21 265 4325

Jewish Community of Helsinki
Tel: +358 9 586 0310

The Union of Russian-Speaking Associations in Finland:
[The umbrella organization for Russian associations in Finland]
Tel: +358 45 652 7869


Svenska Finlands Folkting (Swedish Assembly)
Tel: +358 9 684 4250


Samiraddi/Saamelaisneuvosto (Sami Council)
Tel: +358 9697 677351

Samediggi/Saamelaiskäräjät/The Sami Parliament
Tel: +358 16 665 011

Suoma Sami Nuorat (Sami Youth Organization in Finland)
[Works to strengthen the identity of Sami youth and their knowledge about their culture]
Tel: +358 40 7253947

Taiga Rescue Network
[International network of non-governmental organizations, indigenous peoples and individuals working to defend the world's boreal forests]
Tel: +46 971 17039

Roma Gypsies

Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Tel: +358 9 160 74308

Romano Missio
[Educational services for the Romany (Gypsy) people]
Tel: +358 9 351 13 66

International Romani Writers' Association
[Promotes Roma literature, to obtain its recognition as part of world literature and to strengthen the language and culture of Roma people]
Tel: +358 50 343 4808
Email: OR

Sources and further reading


MRG (ed.), Minorities and Autonomy in Western Europe, London, MRG report, 1991.

Pentikäinen, J. and Hiltunen, M. (eds), Cultural Minorities in Finland, Helsinki, Finnish National Commission for UNESCO, 1995.


Parliament of Aland:

Government of Aland:

History of Aland (in Swedish):


Aikio, S., Aikio-Puoskari, U. and Helander, J., The Sami Culture in Finland, Helsinki, Lapin Sivistysseura, 1994.

Beach, H., The Sami of Lapland, London, MRG report, 1988.

Beach, H., 'The Sami of Lapland', in MRG (ed.), Polar Peoples: Self-Determination and Development, London, Minority Rights Publications, 1994.

Finnish Sami Parliament, 'Land Rights, Linguistic Rights and Cultural Autonomy for the Finnish Sami People', Indigenous Affairs, no. 33/34, July/December 1997, retrieved May 2007,

Sami Online:


Kati Uusi-Rauva, 'The Ethnicity of the City Sami',

BÁIKI: The International Sami Journal:

Sami Radio in Finland:

Sami Culture, University of Texas:

Roma Gypsies

Gronfors, J., 'Roma in Finland', in Roma Rights Quarterly; The culture of the Finnish Roma: path=1;438;3449;3461;3471;15996;15998

Drom-edu Project Finland:

Patrin Web Journal:

Copyright notice: © Minority Rights Group International. All rights reserved.

Search Refworld