Photographer Ilvy Njiokiktjien describes what it was like to capture images of refugees in a Finnish sauna
I was covering a story at a refugee centre in Helsinki, waiting for a journalist colleague, when I saw a group of Iraqi and Syrian men carrying towels. They told me they were going to a traditional Finnish sauna. Jokingly, they invited me to join them. They looked rather surprised when I answered: “Yes, please!”
Unlike the almost naked men, I was still wearing all my outdoor gear. Sweating in my heavy winter layers, I started shooting. It was interesting to see how the group brought their own traditions to the experience. They laughed and sang throughout, and even added in a traditional washing ceremony – Turkish hammam-style.
Afterwards, I found out that the sauna owner lets refugees use his facilities free of charge. “I’m happy they can experience the brotherhood and friendship that is created during a sauna ritual,” he told me.
Ilvy Njiokiktjien is a documentary photographer based in the Netherlands whose work has won numerous prizes, including a World Press Photo award.