When I woke up this morning, I did not know that I would be spending the afternoon with one of the most courageous people I have ever met in person. I went down to see Namir al-Azzawin, an Iraqi asylum seeker, after reading about his hunger strike last night on Migrant Tales.
I wanted to propose making a short film about his protest and gain a better understanding of the struggles migrants are currently facing in Finland. I wasn’t sure whether it is something he would want to do, given I am a complete stranger. I was also very nervous since this is a very real situation – in Finland, an estimated 20,000 asylum seekers are going to be denied residency permits because their countries have been upgraded to ‘safe’ by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri).
Even those who were granted temporary permits may also have them discontinued based on the new Migri assessment. For asylum seekers from countries like Namir’s this is nothing short of a disaster. Namir is protesting this assessment with a hunger strike in front of Parliament House (more on this later…).
When I arrived at 12pm today, the location was empty but for some very saddening images.
Namir arrived shortly after and I was told that he leaves his spot occasionally to charge his phone in a nearby establishment. Having lost my own father and recently become one; the first thing that I thought was that he looked like a gentle and loving dad. I was perhaps expecting a more rebellious youth in their 20s. He was soft-spoken and seemed pleased to meet me. Even so, his eyes could not hide his pain.
He kindly agreed to an interview and I will return tomorrow to let him tell us his story in his own words. Namir’s friend and supporter, Beri, offered to help with translation and I extremely grateful. I met a few of Namir’s friends and supporters and I am sure they are all affected somehow by this assessment by Migri.
Namir was asked yesterday to move further away from the Parliament building. It also looks like the main entrance to Parliament is not in use since the building is being refurbished, so today he made the decision to move somewhere more visible – not because he was asked.
Namir moved today to the main entrance of the Finnish Parliament Annex, or “Little Parliament.”
Namir was promptly requested by a security guard in the building to go somewhere else and away from the immediate property.
He didn’t budge and stood his ground and moved a few meters away from the Finnish Parliament Annex, which is where I left him at 2.30pm.
I worry about Namir being there by himself day and night. He appeared at one point to be suffering from cramps in his legs.
I will try to go there every day to support him and to wherever he is moved to. I must admit that it is an uneasy feeling to know that you are talking to someone who is essentially killing himself slowly. If the government does not respond to Namir’s demands, he will die. Nothing in Namir’s eyes told me that this was a game.
*Zimema Mhone is an African-American filmmaker currently living in Helsinki with his wife and child. He recently received his MA in Film and Video Production and will be starting his own Helsinki-based production company in July. You can reach him at zimema (at) gmail.com