What former Kolari asylum reception center deputy manager “likes” on Facebook (and it’s not pretty)

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Finland was hard pressed to set up reception centers last year to house some 32,500 asylum seekers. In that quest, it’s understandable that some mistakes were made when hiring staff. What is commendable is that the Finnish Immigration Service succeeded at finding a reception center place for each of the asylum seekers. 

Even if the challenges were formidable, there were mistakes made in the rush to establish these reception centers and to hire people. Migrant Tales has written a lot of stories about such challenges at Luona-run reception centers in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Hyvinkää.

On Thursday, YLE reported that the deputy manager of the Kolar asylum reception center, Jari Sillantie, was relieved of his duties because “he wasn’t suited for the job,” according to Helsingin Sanomat, which quotes the Red Cross.

Is Sillantie suitable for the job?

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YLE: Red Cross sacks Kolari asylum reception center deputy manager

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Special thanks to Rovaniemi-based daily Lapin Kansa, YLE and Helsingin Sanomat that some solution to the ordeal of 129 asylum seekers at the Kolari reception center has ended with the sacking of Jari Sillantie, the deputy manager of the camp, according to YLE.  One of the biggest complaints that the asylum seekers had was Sillantie. 

Migrant Tales will publish more news on this and ask what the asylum seekers feel about this decision.

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Read full story here.

 

Institute of Race Relations: Immigration detention – a tale of two reviews

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Monish Bhatia and Victoria Canning

Two recent reviews of immigration detention offer a contrast in their approach to the fundamental injustice of immigration detention and in their usefulness to campaigners.

It has been four months since the publication of two key reviews of immigration detention: the Review into the Welfare in Detention of Vulnerable Persons undertaken by former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw, and the Serco-commissioned Independent Investigation into Concerns about Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre conducted by Kate Lampard and Ed Marsden. Both reviews have been broadly welcomed across the refugee sector. Although the remit for Shaw’s review excluded the issue of detention in and of itself, he advocated banning the detention of pregnant women and suggested there should be a ‘presumption against detention’ of sexual violence victims, victims of FGM, people with learning difficulties, those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and transgender people. In all, Shaw made sixty-four recommendations, while the Yarl’s Wood review made thirty-five recommendations, Serco agreeing thirty-two of them.

Justifiable scepticism…

Of course, reviews and ‘independent investigations’ must be approached with a degree of scepticism. Institutional racism within the police did not disappear after the Macpherson report, and in fact seems as pervasive as ever in some areas; vulnerable women are still arbitrarily detained in prisons and immigration removal centres (IRCs) five years after the Corston report, and despite the Harris Review, young people still end their own lives in prison and detention. And since the Shaw and Yarl’s Wood reviews and recommendations were published in January, the IRC estate has again been plagued by reports of violence and abuse. Only a month after the reviews’ dual releases, Amir Siman-Tov died in IRC Colnbrook. Amir, a Moroccan man in his thirties, had been placed on suicide watch at the time. Less than a month after that, women in Yarl’s Wood held hand-written signs on t-shirts which read ‘Yarl’s Wood officers in relationships with vulnerable detainees’ out of the restricted openings in their windows, communicating allegations of abuse to protesters surrounding the facility. Photos from Pennine House have since surfaced which show an 18-year-old rape survivor being dragged down stairs whilst resisting immigration officers. On 4 April, the Home Office released statistics showing that suicide attempts in British IRCs are at an all-time high.

So what function do the reviews serve?

The limitations of the reviews

If we look at these reviews of immigration detention specifically, in each case, the terms of reference were drawn narrowly. Neither review was permitted to consider the big issues: the over-use of detention, indefinite detention, privatisation or time limiting, even though the government had only recently rejected the calls for a 28-day limit. Shaw was told not to consider detention per se but to limit his scrutiny to the treatment of vulnerable people in detention, while Lampard was restricted to reviewing ‘the culture and practices at Yarl’s Wood as they relate to the welfare and wellbeing of residents’. In Shaw’s case, he was assisted by two Home Office officials, arguably undermining the review’s structural independence.

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Rebuttal to Helsingin Sanomat concerning the Kolari asylum reception center story

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Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest daily, published Wednesday a story without interviewing a single asylum seeker at the Kolari reception center never mind yours truly about how this story emerged and developed.  

In a news story, journalists should strive to get all sides of the story, which Helsingin Sanomat didn’t do. Is a news story a rebuttal or an editorial that takes sides?

It shouldn’t be but the question remains: Why didn’t Helsingin Sanomat care to interview a direct source, or asylum seekers?

There are a lot of question marks that the news story didn’t address. For one, some asylum seekers at the camp allege that the manager Jari Sillantie threatens them by stating that they will get black marks in their records “if they don’t shut up.”

While we never mentioned that selling clothes, charging 3 euros to go to the gym or getting people to pay 10 euros to go shopping in Rovaniemi is illegal, there are a lot of ethical questions that can be raised. Is it ethical to charge an asylum seeker, who gets 92.30 euros a month, to relinquish 10% of his monthly money on clothes or transportation?

The manager states that they only charge “a small sum” of money for used clothes, ranging from 0.50 euros to 10 euros.

Are 10 euros or less a “small” sum if you get only 92.30 euros a month? What about if they punish you for not attending Finnish class and take away a part of your monthly allowance?

In today’s Finland, where xenophobia and hostility towards migrants, especially asylum seekers is present, few if anyone would ask such a question, even if they should.

There is another question that the reporter forgot to ask. Does the reception center have a permit to transport and charge people for rides? If they don’t, they cannot charge people for rides.

Ubertaxi has tried this and got itself in a lot of legal problems.

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Read full story here.

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Humane treatment of asylum seekers – case Kolari reception center

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Many of us have read about recent events at the Kolari asylum reception center in northern Finland. Considering that the far-flung reception center is located in the middle of nowhere 80km north of the Arctic Circle, one could ask what is more important: the well-being of its asylum seekers, or regional policy to keep Finland populated? 

Everyone knows that the populist anti-immigration Perussuomalaiset (PS)* is a member of the government with the Center Party and National Coalition Party (NCP). The latter two parties permit the PS to steal their thunder on anti-immigration rhetoric and policy for support of their austerity policies. Näyttökuva 2016-5-4 kello 19.25.12

Some 120 asylum seekers participated in a peaceful demonstration Wednesday. Read full story here.

The immigration policy of the PS can be described as xenophobic. The party sees most migrants in Finland with suspicion and hasn’t hidden its contempt for them.

Read the PS’ immigration policy here.

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The fallacy of the “two extremes” argument in Finland on immigration, asylum seekers and our ever-growing culturally diverse society

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Here’s a simple question: Why does the police, like President Sauli Niinistö, see the present debate on immigration, asylum seekers and our ever-growing culturally and ethnically diverse society as being conducted by two extremes? 

President Niinistö, who hasn’t shone as a defender of our culturally diverse society, spoke of the tolkun ihmiset, the silent majority that doesn’t identify with neither of these extremes.

Ville Rantanen offers in a cartoon below his view of the tolkun ihmiset.

There is one very noticeable flaw in Niinistö’s and online police Jarno Saarinen’s points of views of the “two extremes:” They are the views of white Finns with power who are the least affected by the ongoing hate speech and hostility against migrants and minorities.

Acknowledging this flaw in the debate is crucial to understand the issue.

People who say and do racist things, or politicians that want to relegate migrants and minorities to second- or third-class members of society, are the real threat to migrants and minorities – not to white people like Niinistö and Saarinen.

Add to the latter that we have an openly anti-immigration party like the Perussuomalaiset* in government with mainstream parties like the National Coalition Party and Center Party and the issue takes an ever-worrying dimension.

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The police try to moderate the present debate on Finland’s ever-growing culturally and ethnically diverse society. Online police Jarno Saarinen writes: “There are two extremes in our society that are so far from each other that I, with mixed feelings, await what will come out of this. It’s difficult to define these two extremes because giving them a name is difficult. Some speak of racists and anti-racists while others speak of those that defend anti-immigration and pro-immigration standpoints. Whatever the definition,  I want to speak of those who see the other group as the plague; it’s unfortunate that the rhetoric of these two groups is similar.” Read original posting (in Finnish) here.

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Kirje Suomalaisille Kolarin vastaanottokeskuksesta – A letter to Finns from the Kolari asylum reception center

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Hyvät Kolarilaiset ja Suomalaiset,

Olemme pakolaisia ja asumme Kolarin vastaanottokeskuksessa jossa oli rauhanomainen mielenosoitus keskiviikkona. Jotkut, joka ovat lukeneet mitä tapahtui keskiviikkona Lapin Kansasta, väittävät että olimme tehnet mielenosoituksen koska vihamme suomalaisia. Väite ei voisi olla kauempana totuudesta.

Mielenilmaisu ei ollut Suomeen tai suomalaisia vastaan vaan sitä huono kohtelua ja rasismia jota olemme kokeneet vastaanottokeskuksessa.

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Jos olisi mahdollista, haluaisimme puhua kaikkien suomalaisten kanssa ja kertoa heille että olemme kiitollisia siitä mitä olemme saanet. Jotkut voi kysyä miksi emme lähde toisen maahan. Me tulimme Suomeen seuraavien syiden takia: ihmiset rakastavat rauhaa, te olette inhimillisiä, armeliaita eikä ole rasisteja ja teillä on iso sydän. Nämä ovat syyt.

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What’s going on at the Kolari, Finland, asylum reception center?

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There’s been a lot of news as of late from the small town of Kolari, where the location of Finland’s northernmost asylum center is. If I were forced to live there, I would probably go crazy too.

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Kolari is far away from everywhere. Source: Google Maps.

Some 120 asylum seekers at the camp staged a peaceful demonstration Wednesday. One of the demands of the asylum seekers is to close the camp.

“We had talks with the management broke down today about closing this camp,” an asylum seeker told Migrant Tales by phone. “If there isn’t a resolution about this by Monday we are all going to leave the building and sleep outside.”

The asylum seeker said that the majority of the people at the camp have been on hunger strike from Wednesday.

Distant Kolari

Certainly a valid question is why on earth would the Finnish state want to establish an asylum center in such a far-flung town where even the postal code – 95900 – sounds remote.

The town has only one main street, Jokinjantie, and the closest “cities” by Lapland standards are Rovaniemi and Tornio, located 166km and 186km away, respectively. Anyone who has visited Rovaniemi (pop. 58,100 inhabitants) will probably agree that it has a wild deep northern feel to it.

But let’s go back to the question: Why of all places an asylum center in Kolari?

For one, the Finnish state is required to spread these centers equally throughout the country.

But what do you do if you come from a vast metropolis like Baghdad with 3.8 million inhabitants and end up in Kolari with only 3,857 residents? There are two options: rub salt on your wounds or think about leaving Finland.

Considering that we have the anti-immigration populist Perussuomalaiset (PS)* party in government, Kolari might serve as a warning to other asylum seekers who may wander to Finland.

Considering that about 32,500 asylum seekers came to Finland last year, there were a lot of mistakes made when establishing these centers throughout the country. We’ve read a lot about abuses at Luona, the private company that manages asylum centers in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Hyvinkää, Villa Meri in Rauma, and now about the problems in Kolari.

Some of them, like the one in Niinisalo,  never opened their doors to asylum seekers since they were razed to the ground.

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The name of this infamous prison used in Wednesday’s demonstration has its roots in a Vantaa asylum reception center. A staffer there had threatened an asylum seeker that he’d be transferred to the Kolari reception center which is like Guantanamo.

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