Undocumented migrant: “I can never leave Finland. That’s a scary thought.”

by , under Enrique Tessieri

When we imagine an undocumented migrant in Finland, we usually picture an Iraqi or Afghan asylum seeker. But what about if that undocumented migrant is an over-sixty-year-old white pensioner from North America?

Finland’s strict immigration laws, especially those tightened in 2016, have been at the center of growing questions and concern about their enforcement.

A group of researchers from Turku University, Åbo Akademi, and the Ombudsman for Equality, who published their findings last week, concluded that the rights and protection of asylum seekers in Finland had deteriorated significantly.


Finnish immigration law does not consider grandparents as part of the nuclear family. The pensioner in the picture is not related to Sheryl.

While the conclusions of this study shouldn’t surprise anyone, the number of undocumented migrants should. In April 2016, parliament voted in favor of scrapping residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Before scrapping the law, Finland’s undocumented migrant population grew from a few hundred to thousands.

One of the many criticisms of Finland’s tight immigration policy is that it doesn’t recognize grandparents as part of the nuclear family.

A few years ago, there were two high-profile cases in the Finnish media involving grandmothers. The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) had tried to deport unsuccessfully three times a Russian citizen, Irina Antonova, who had suffered a stroke in Finland while visiting her daughter. Egyptian grandmother Eveline Fadayel was granted a residence permit after a lengthy battle with Migri officials.

Being white and undocumented

Sheryl*, who first moved to Finland to be with her daughter and grandchildren over ten years ago, admits that she can never leave Finland because she is an undocumented migrant. “I can never leave Finland,” she admitted. “That’s a scary thought.”

She said she was supposed to leave the country earlier this year, but decided to remain and become an undocumented migrant.

“I have nowhere to return to [in North America],” she continued. “My family and my life are in Finland.”

Sheryl’s daughter met her husband through the Internet, and they got married over ten years ago but divorced a few years ago. She has grandchildren who love and need her, according to her.

“I’m an important part of my daughter’s family,” she added. “I teach them cultural diversity.”

Like any grandmother with grandchildren, Sheryl moved to Finland to be near her daughter and give her support.

Apart from tormenting Sheryl’s daughter psychologically, her former husband doesn’t like foreigners.

“A doctor from outside the EU attended one of my granddaughters,” she said. “He got so angry about this and said that only a Finnish doctor would treat her daughter.”

She said that her daughter’s ex-husband would sometimes rant about how much he hates foreigners and how all of them are lazy and come to this country to abuse social welfare.

“I heard him say this in front of me,” she added.

Living in fear

Sheryl said that she had to wait for months to find out if Migri would give her a residence permit until she was told to appear at the police station. She knew that her request for a residence permit had been turned down.

“This made us all very sad,” she said. “I’m no burden on this society. I get a pension, and I can live off this money.”

Sheryl insists that she cannot return to her home country because she has no-one there. For her to do things legally, she would have to stay abroad for 90 days before she can return to Finland for three months.

“Every time I leave home I fear that I can get caught,” she continued. “But I’m lucky because I’m white. The police would not suspect people like me because they would be looking for somebody who looks like a Middle Easterner or African. Even so, I live in near-constant fear.”

Sheryl said that immigration policy in Finland is too strict with regards to including grandparents as part of the nuclear family.

“I have no other choice but to go on despite the situation,” she concluded. I must not let fear overcome me. If you look afraid, you’ll look guilty.”


* The real name of the person was changed and she spoke on condition of anonymity. The names of some places and dates were changed to protect the person’s identity.

If you are in a similar legal situation like Sheryl, you can send her an email at editor@migranttales.net. 

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