Bike riding courses offer Finland’s immigrants new freedom

An immigrant woman rides a bike on September 20, 2019 on the gimcana track in Merihaka area, in Helsinki, Finland, as she takes part in the Let's Ride project offering free cycling lessons. (File/AFP)
Updated 01 October 2019

Bike riding courses offer Finland’s immigrants new freedom

  • Biking is popular in the Nordic nation, where more than half of people in the capital travel by bike at least once a week

HELSINKI, Finland: It’s a skill you never forget once learnt, as the saying goes: Now immigrants to Finland can receive free cycling lessons to help them better integrate into life in the bike-loving nation.

On a sunny September morning a group of around eight students have taken time out from their Finnish lessons to come to an empty car park in Helsinki’s Suvilahti district, where they are fitted out with helmets and bikes.

“Many people who come to Finland, mostly women, they don’t have this bicycle skill and it’s a very important part of Finnish society,” says Federico Ferrara of the Finnish Cyclists’ Federation, which runs the project.

Ferrara insists that learning to ride helps to empower the new arrivals, especially women, many of whom come from North Africa or the Middle East.

“Many of our clients have some kind of taboo with these biking skills, maybe they’ve fallen down when they were kids and they have this trauma in their head for 20 years, or maybe it’s not socially or culturally accepted for them to bike,” Ferrara tells AFP.

The instructors help some of the students climb onto their bikes, and, as today’s group has already had some practice in the saddle, they set off around a course of cones.

Despite some initial wobbles, instructor Sami Viitanen soon decides the group is ready for the next stage, and leads them out for a spin on the roads to get used to riding in traffic.

Biking is popular in the Nordic nation, where more than half of people in the capital travel by bike at least once a week, according to authorities. A further 10 percent cycle all year round despite the long, snowy winters.

But outside the city, learning to ride can be key to living independently. “If they are in a refugee center, many times they are in the middle of nowhere and the bike can be the only way of commuting,” Ferrara says.

In the past year-and-a-half, Ferrara and his colleagues have taught 320 beginners to ride. The project is funded by Finland’s state lottery and gambling monopoly.

Ferrara says that after three hours, 90 percent of clients are able to navigate a car park. “Riding is great, now I can do it,” gushes Orhan, who came to Finland from Turkey seven years ago.


Asylum-seeking Iranian beauty queen still in custody at Manila airport

Updated 19 min 6 sec ago

Asylum-seeking Iranian beauty queen still in custody at Manila airport

  • Bahari said authorities in the Philippines were keeping her in the dark about the status of her asylum case
  • She has consistently said the assault and battery case against her is fake, and Tehran was targeting her for supporting an opposition politician

MANILA: An Iranian beauty queen seeking asylum in the Philippines remains incarcerated at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport almost a week after she was barred from entering the southeast Asian country due to an Interpol red notice.
Bahareh Zare Bahari, Iran’s representative to the 2018 Miss Intercontinental pageant, was arrested at the airport last Thursday following a charge against her for an assault and battery case allegedly committed in Dagupan City in the Philippines. Bahari denies any wrongdoing. 
Speaking to Arab News by telephone on Wednesday, Bahari said authorities in the Philippines were keeping her in the dark about the status of her asylum case.
“Filipino authorities are not updating me. They said they sent a letter to Interpol in Iran to get an answer from them. So they told me I have to wait until Iran Interpol answers,” she said. 
Bahari also said she was not feeling well and had been examined by a doctor at the airport on Tuesday. She did not provide details of her ailment.
Bahari has consistently said the assault and battery case against her is fake, and Tehran was targeting her for supporting an opposition politician and violating traditional values by taking part in beauty pageants and speaking for women’s rights.
In January, she appeared at a pageant carrying a picture of Reza Pahlavi, an Iranian opposition leader and founder of the National Council of Iran.
“I have used his photo in a beauty pageant and the Iranian government are angry with me,” Bahari said, adding: “If I am deported to Iran, they will give me at least 25 years in jail, if they do not kill me.”
Tehran has not commented on Bahari’s statements. 
Bahari said last week that she had traveled to the Philippines after a vacation in Dubai, where she did not encounter any problems with immigration authorities, adding that she was surprised when she was intercepted at the airport in Manila and informed that she was on an Interpol list.
Bahari said her lawyer “had checked all records in the Philippines and with Interpol,” but there was no record against her.
The beauty queen has denied committing any crimes in Iran, or in the Philippines where she has been studying dentistry since 2014.
The Philippines Department of Justice (DoJ) Undersecretary and spokesperson Mark Perete said in a statement last week that Bahari remained in custody at the airport and “could not be sent back to Iran because she has filed an application for asylum.”
The DoJ would resolve her asylum application “in due time,” Perete added.