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06.02.2024 15:57

A strong will made a professional dream come true

Berivan Suleiman was chosen as Refugee of the Year in 2023 and works as a security guard. As a security professional, she wants to widen the picture of immigrant women and encourage everyone to pursue their own professional dreams.

Always meet the customer with a smile, said a security teacher during Suleiman’s studies. She has followed this advice in her work and received a lot of positive feedback from customers.

Berivan Suleiman, 28, walks through the parking garage of a shopping center in Helsinki looking for an old couple’s car amongst hundreds of vehicles. During a shopping trip, the couple has forgotten the location of their car. When the car is finally found, the couple is overflowing with gratitude.

– As a security guard and steward, you get to help and advice customers in a variety of situations. Most of our time we are patrolling and answering customers’ questions. An alarm call or an urgent problem is an exceptional situation, says Suleiman, who works for Avarn.

In a shopping center, the reason for the alarm call is often shoplifting or disruptive customer behavior.

When she receives an alarm, Suleiman takes off running. She feels adrenaline rushing through her body and is curious and eager to find out what’s going on.

– Primarily, we solve challenging situations by talking. Only if that doesn’t help, we have to resort to force. Often the mere arrival of the security guard calms down the situation, says Suleiman.

In addition to a shopping centre, she has worked e.g. in the metro, Kela service points and the Immigration Office Migri.

Not a nurse, but a security guard

After coming to Finland as a refugee with her two-year-old daughter in 2015, Suleiman noticed that there were native Finnish women working as guards, but she did not see a single female guard with a migrant background.

– I wanted to show that even we immigrant women can work as security guards. We are strong and able.

She paid attention to this, because she had dreamed of working as a security guard or a police officer for a long time. The young mother who fled the war in Syria through Turkey applied for asylum specifically in Finland, because in Finland a police officer does not need to be of Finnish origin. Even a citizen with a foreign background can work as a police officer.

There was a dark reason for her dreams: Suleiman, who was forced into marriage as a minor, had a violent husband. The violence continued in Finland, even though her husband stayed in Turkey. In the eyes of her relatives who had arrived in Finland earlier, Suleiman had acted shamefully when she divorced from her husband and took their child with her.

– I thought that if I am a security guard or a police officer, I can protect myself and my daughter.

Many people tried to discourage Suleiman from having these dreams. The employee in the employment office said that someone who is born abroad cannot work as a security guard and suggested instead a job as a nurse, cleaner or hairdresser. Suleiman’s relatives were sure that a petite woman such as Suleiman could not be admitted to security guard studies.

However, Suleiman kept her head, and found out that the door to security guard studies was open for her too. A Finnish friend helped her to fill out the application, and Suleiman got to an interview and was admitted to the school. She completed her degree in just one year.

– I feel empowered and confident, says Suleiman, who has worked in the sector for three years now.

Berivan Suleiman dreams not only of becoming a police officer but also of military service in the Finnish army. There is a risk that the latter dream will not come true as Suleiman’s citizenship application is stuck in Migri. This year, Suleiman turns 29 years, after which it is no longer possible to complete the military service.

Language skills a strength

As a woman with a migrant background, Suleiman is still a rare sight among security guards. Many customers have come to her and said that she is brave, but not everyone has been happy with her career choice.

– Especially when I was working in the metro I often unintentionally ended up on social media videos. Some people think that I go against my culture and that I should stay home and take care of my children. I have also received threats through social media. But I don’t care. I think that the people who are telling me off are not able to do the same as I have done.

She has also received racist treatment from customers as well as some of her colleagues.

– Colleagues may talk negatively about immigrants in general terms. I always tell them that we are not all the same, not all native Finns are the same either.

Her immigrant background has also been a strength for Suleiman in her working life. A security guard who knows Arabic and Kurdish has often been called to help when the language barrier between a Kela or Migri authority and a customer has grown too big.

Suleiman was not familiar with the Finnish trade union movement. A familiar police officer brought up the issue when Suleiman was sexually harassed at work. “PAM has helped me on many occasions”, she says now.

A professional in the service industry

Suleiman’s working days are often 12–13 hours long. As a counterbalance, there are more days off than usual.

During the long hours, the importance of colleagues is further emphasized.

– The best thing about my work is my colleagues. We often chat a lot during the day. I have also learned a lot from my colleagues. My skills in Finnish are improving every day.

According to Suleiman, a good security guard is calm and friendly. She has kept in mind the advice she got earlier: always meet the customer with a smile. Security guards and stewards are service professionals.

Recently, the security industry has shown itself in a very bad light. The guards have been convicted for assaults and too harsh behavior.

According to Suleiman, there are still problems in the industry, but she emphasizes that all professionals and the entire industry should not be slandered.

Working as a police officer is still a dream for this young woman. However, the lack of Finnish citizenship stands in the way of her dream coming true. Suleiman has been living in Finland for eight years now, but the application is stuck in Migri due to ambiguities regarding her documents.

– I firmly believe that one day I will be a police officer. It may take five or ten years, it doesn’t really matter, Suleiman says.

Original text: Anu Vallinkoski
Images: Eeva Anundi