Finland began to toughen up its requirements for asylum seekers in 2015. Since Finnish authorities decided that the security situation has improved in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, failed asylum seekers from those countries are no longer eligible for “humanitarian protection" — despite the fact that their countries are still at war. On social media, failed asylum seekers have been documenting their fear, outrage, and sorrow while being deported.

In one of these videos, which was published in February 2017 on Facebook, Aziz, a young Iraqi man from the city of Basra, whose asylum claim was rejected in Finland, filmed his deportation to Iraq.

He filmed himself in an airport in Turkey (though it is not possible to identify which city), his last stop before Iraq. He is surrounded by security forces and wears a belt with loops for his hands. According to Iraqi activists, these restraints are supposed to quash any attempt at resistance during the takeoff, flight and landing.  
 
فيديو في أحد مطارات تركيا - ترحيل شاب عراقي

"Where is the humanity?"

Another video, filmed on July 13, 2017, shows eight members of the same family, including seven children, gathered in a police car. The family lived in the Turku refugee camp in Finland, but the video shows them being transferred to the detention centre where they will stay until they are deported back to Iraq.

فيديو: ترحيل عائلة من مخيم توركو في فنلندا

The video below was filmed by a young Iraqi who arrived in Finland in late 2015. He made this video while in a detention centre. He had applied for asylum, was rejected and then exhausted his possibilities of appeal. Finnish authorities planned to deport him [Editor’s note: The young man’s name isn’t given, making it impossible to know how he travelled from Iraq to Finland.]

In this video made before his deportation, he seems desperate.

"What happened to humanity?" he asks.

فيديو: شاب عراقي في مركز احتجاز قبل موعد الترحيل

Finland announced at the end of 2015 that it considered that the level of danger had decreased in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The result: the automatic “humanitarian protection” offered to people from war zones under Finnish law no longer applies to people from these three countries. Now, in order to seek refuge in Finland, these people will have to go through the process of applying for asylum and hope upon hope to get it.
 

"The authorities implied that I didn’t have enough documents to prove that my life and the lives of my family were in danger”

Ahmed Mahmoud, an Iraqi asylum seeker, currently lives in northern Finland. He worked as a photographer in Baghdad.
 
I had to leave Iraq because of the war. My family and I had started receiving threats. I arrived in Finland in 2015 after a long and difficult journey, passing through Turkey and Greece.

However, my asylum claim was rejected by the Finnish National Office of Immigration. The authorities implied that I didn’t have enough documents to prove that my life and the lives of my family were in danger. And yet, these threats to our lives are real. My cousin wants me dead and has been threatening other members of my family. I appealed the decision in an administrative court. I don’t want to go back to Iraq. The country is still at war and returning would mean death.
 
 

"It was in February 2016 that we first heard that people were being deported"

Some migrants, who have been lucky enough to obtain asylum in Finland, have been rallying around those who risk deportation. Haidar is one such activist. He was forced to flee the city of Kirkuk in Iraq after receiving death threats. He decided to try to start a new life in Finland, where he wanted to continue his studies in computer engineering.

He arrived in the country in 2015. His initial asylum claim was rejected but he appealed and obtained the status of political refugee and a residency card that can be renewed in four years.

Haider worked with human rights activists in Finland as well as other Iraqi refugees to start a movement to help asylum seekers in Finland. He dubbed the project “Vapaa liikkuvuus -verkosto”, which translates to “Free Movement Network”.

It was in February 2016 that we first heard that failed asylum seekers were being deported. We learned that at least 21 people had been deported over a four-month period. This number does not include people who had volunteered to return to Iraq.

Failed asylum seekers who have exhausted the possibility of appeal must move out of state-run centres for refugees and no longer receive financial aid from the Finnish government.

We teamed up with Finnish activists to organise protests. Our aim was to pressure the Finnish government. The parliament actually approved a bill that would require municipalities to organise housing for asylum seekers. Three different reception centres, each of which can house up to 50 people, have already been opened. Any migrant is free to live in these centres. They can also apply for to receive a special benefit of ten euros a day, which they receive until a decision has been made regarding their claim.

Why does Finland deport these failed asylum seekers??

The Finnish National Office of Immigration is the body responsible for awarding asylum. If the applicant is refused asylum, he or she can appeal to the Administrative tribunal in Helsinki. If the appeal is not successful, then authorities can start a process of deportation. If the Administrative Supreme Court rejects the final appeal, then the asylum seeker in question is transferred to a detention centre, where he or she must wait until the deportation date.

Since the elimination of special humanitarian protection for people from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, asylum is awarded on a case-by-case basis and no longer by the country of origin.

This toughening of the Finnish policy towards refugees is occurring alongside a rise in the far-right, nationalist, anti-immigration party “The Finns.” Police have been doubling in their efforts to speed up the deportation of migrants who fail to receive asylum or humanitarian protection.

In another bid to limit the number of new arrivals, Finnish authorities have also made it more difficult for those seeking family reunification. Now, a refugee who wants to bring his or her family to Finland must prove that he or she earns a sufficient salary [Editor’s note: which is determined on a case-by-case basis by authorities] to support additional family members.

In 2015, the number of asylum seekers in Finland exploded: There were 32,500 applications submitted that year,  compared to less than 4,000 in 2014. In 2016, Finnish authorities said that they planned to reject the claims of more than two thirds of asylum seekers and, furthermore, deport them.

In 2016, the Finnish Ministry of Immigration received 16,000 applications for asylum from people who had fled Iraq. Only 2,900 were approved. So far, in 2017, the Ministry has approved 800 asylum claims, out of 2,600 submitted.

 
Article written in collaboration with and published on the site InfoMigrants.
Article written with
Dana Alboz

Dana Alboz , Journaliste arabophone / InfoMigrants.net