Bad luck and alleged ethnic profiling by the Finnish Border Guard at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport led to the detention of Christian Heumi Kabon, a Cameroonian who plays for that country’s national team. He ended up detained at the Metsälä immigration removal center in Helsinki for 18 days, from October 30 to November 16.
At the Metsälä immigration removal center, a detained person cannot leave the premises. For many, the removal center is the last place where they are kept before being deported out of the country.
Cyrille Belinga had invited his friend Kabon to visit him in Helsinki. He bought him a one-way ticket to Helsinki from Lisbon, where he had entered the country legally. Portugal and Finland are part of the Schengen area, which means relatively free travel without border controls.
“I told him that I would pick him up at the airport on Tuesday [October 30],” said Belinga. “Cameroonians call each other by their nicknames. This is why Christian did not remember right off the bat my real name when asked by customs officials.”
Belinga claims that the only reason why agents stopped him was because he is black. It is a good example of racism, according to him. Legally, he had a right to travel freely in the Schengen area of which Finland is a signatory.
“My friend could not tell the border guards my real name and to top it off, I had lost my phone on that day,” he continued. “So I could not be reached when the border agent called me.”
As a result, Kabon ended up at Metsälä where he awaited deporation proceedings.
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Thanks to the efforts of lawyer Miro del Gaudio of Lex Gaudius, the hapless Cameroonian football player was released after complaints and an appeal to the adminisrative court of Helsinki.
On Friday, November 16, Kabon left the immigration removal center and could finally pay that visit to his friend Cyrille.
“This is only one case,” said del Gaudio. “I suspect there are many more of arbitrary detentions by officials. We should look into this matter more closely to assess the extent of the problem.”
From left to right: Cyrille Belinga, Miro del Gaudio and Christian Heumi Kabon.
Belinga said that Kabon could not sleep well at his home after the ordeal.
“He stayed with us until Monday, when he left Finland escorted at the airport by agens who made sure that he left the country,” he continued. “My friend told me that he will never visit Finland again.”
Del Gaudio said that the Cameroonian national football team seeks compensation for what had happened to its player.