Following a much-publicised nightclub shooting incident in downtown Helsinki about three weeks ago, the Finnish Parliament informally debated the problems of deportation on 11 October. Further views surfaced in the Finnish media on Sunday evening concerning how expulsion can be enforced in practice.
The debate has focused on the problem that arises when no country is willing to admit a deportee. The principal suspect in the nightclub shooting is a 38 year-old habitual violent offender with Vietnamese citizenship who has lived in Finland since childhood. Although an attempt was made to deport this person to Vietnam about three years ago, the Vietnamese government has refused to issue a passport to the deportee, whom it now considers to be a foreigner by reason of prolonged estrangement.
Similar cases have arisen in the past with candidate deportees of Iraqi and Somali origin, and also – tellingly – with members of the Russian-speaking community in Estonia.
One remark from veteran National Coalition Party MP Ben Zyskowicz was obviously playing to an ill-informed public gallery (aka folk who cheer when someone shouts more goodies, less baddies, and plenty of platitudes for all!!!) when he suggested in all seriousness that this kind of international impasse could be resolved simply by finding one or two sturdy policemen to escort deportees to their destination. It seems that even a trained lawyer with long experience in international relations and legislative reform sometimes cannot resist the temptation to offer cheap soundbites in the run-up to elections.
Zyskowicz obviously should have known better. His suggestion is typical of commentators with no appreciation of the issues at stake in cases where a State respectfully declines to admit an individual with whom it has no substantial ties. In any case the MP was brought back down to earth with a bump by long-serving police superintendent Veijo Rissanen, whom YLE News described as really not knowing whether to laugh or cry at such moaning from a parliamentarian:
We made it to the Vietnamese border in one case, but wound up bringing the deportee back with us on the return flight.
The concrete practice of expulsion must always include respect for the immigration formalities of the destination country. Servants of a foreign power (sturdy policemen or otherwise) who arrived in Finland to deliver an undocumented person with no advance clearance would be risking a jail sentence of two years for infringing section 8 of chapter 17 of the Finnish Penal Code.
It is important to recognise that reluctant receiving States are not necessarily behaving unreasonably. A State may be unwilling to admit socially maladjusted individuals with no material ties to the country in question, merely because of an assumed administrative status that is no longer meaningful. It is by no means clear why Russia, for example, should admit an Estonian-born Russian-speaking individual who arrived in Finland as a child accompanying parents admitted to Finland under the Ingrian resettlement programme in the early 1990s. Such a person is very much the product (and victim) of naturalisation and minority policy in Estonia and Finland, and it is hardly the fault of Russia when the outcome is a maladjusted adult.
This is obviously an extreme (though real) example, but estrangement is the commonest justification given by governments that refuse to issue travel documents or recognise any duty to admit deportees.
In the parliamentary debate Zyskowicz explicitly linked the issue of deportee acceptance to international development aid, suggesting that aid could serve as a means of coercing foreign governments into accepting deportees. Perhaps I have a perverse turn of mind, but I immediately thought of toxic waste reprocessing scandals at this point. The only difference is that instead of industrial waste, governments will be bargaining over financial incentives to accept human beings who have been effectively classified as social waste to be taken away and buried somewhere out of sight and out of mind.