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.
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.
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.
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.
What’s going on in Kolari?
If you talk to the management, the only matter that the 129 asylum seekers there complain about is the food, according to Lapin Kansa, the Rovaniemi-based daily.
But what is the biggest complaint by the asylum seekers? There are many but yesterday’s chants say it all loud and clear: “We want help!”
But help from what? For having to live in the middle of nowhere with a sense of forsakenness and uncertainty.
The fact that there was a demonstration at the camp suggests that there are problems there.
It’s clear that the asylum seekers are fed up with living there and want the reception center closed.
While this may be the wish of the asylum seekers, the administration has a different view. They instead pass the buck to the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) and claim that they have their hands tied since they are obliged to following orders.
The asylum seekers cannot speak to the Migri representatives when they visit the camp. Such visits are kept secret from them.
After the demonstration, the manager talked to a handful of asylum seekers about their grievances. He brought them copies of some chat sites and comments made on Facebook walls about how some Finns reacted to what they did. And the comments weren’t pretty.
“The manager said that thanks to Migrant Tales and Lapin Kansa there is a lot of negative publicity about migrants,” he continued. “He said that this [the demonstration] wouldn’t affect our asylum process but would have an negative impact on our lives if we got a residence permit and looked for a job. He said that people would not hire us [because they don’t like migrants].”
Why would the management want to give such messages to the asylum seekers? There are many Finns in this country who have a strong sense of justice. But were the copies he brought to them a warning that they should not protest and talk to the media anymore?
One of the problems at the Kolari asylum reception center is that the manager is at the center three to four times a week, according to another asylum seeker.
“He is now on holiday this week [even if he visited us yesterday],” he said.
* The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English names of the party adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We, therefore, prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings. The direct translation of “Perussuomalaiset” is “basic” or “fundamental Finn.”