Avelino* wasn’t the first undocumented migrant I had met in Finland

by , under Enrique Tessieri

I got an email from a Migrant Tales reader who told me about Avelino*, a middle-aged Filipino who was working in Finland but who got deported last year with his two children.  He wasn’t the first undocumented migrant I had met in Finland. The first one I met was a Mexican cook in the 1980s who was working for a restaurant called Mexicana in Helsinki.

Avelino is a software engineer with 25 years experience in his field who worked for a Finnish company in Indonesia before moving to the country. He got a residence permit in 2011. His daughter and son, who were at the time 16 and 15 years old, respectively, moved to Finland later on.

The Filipino and his two children became undocumented migrant by overstaying their residence permits.

Avelino has worked in a number of countries like Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and in the Philippines during his long career.

The Filipino blamed his family’s deportation on the “migration crisis,” when many thousands of Iraqis and Afghans came to Finland in the fall and winter of 2015 and 2016. “If so many Muslims wouldn’t have come to Europe,” he explained, “I would have been able to stay in Finland.”

Avelino considered it unfair that he, who came to Finland legally, is forced to leave the country.

“They [asylum seekers] came here illegally [sic] and we moved here legally,” he said. “We paid taxes and they get everything [for free].”

He considered himself and his two teenage children to be  “collateral damage” of the migration “crisis” that swept Europe from 2015.

“Humanity does not only apply to Muslims but to us as well,” he added.

On top of the difficulties of keeping himself financially afloat and simultaneously trying to find employment, the ultimate blow came when the Espoo police service made his family feel as if they were criminals when they were escorted to board the plane to the Philippines from the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.

Avelino in the end of 2016 in Helsinki just a few days before he was deported from Finland. Photo: Enrique Tessieri.

Avelino has suffered a number of setbacks in Finland and tried his hardest to stay in the country. The first one came in 2013, when he and his two children contracted tuberculosis.

“I lost my job and was one month in confinement and treated for seven months for tuberculosis,” he explained. “I was given social aid and allowed to stay in Finland with a residence permit on humanitarian grounds.”

Avelino states that the following year in 2014 his residence permit expired because he couldn’t find work until he was hired in October 2015 for six months to work at the Espoo International School. His first job ended when funding from Tekes ended.

“We were living off very little money,” he continued, “the rent we paid in Helsinki was 950 euros a month [or about half of his salary after taxes].”

One of the most incredible matters about Avelino’s story is that even if he is a software engineer with 25 years experience in paper machinery, installation and computer software, he got paid at his last job at the Espoo International School about 1,900 euros a month after taxes. His first job didn’t pay him any better either.

Part of his work at the school in Espoo was servicing 285 Ipads. He knew that software engineers like him made about 4,000 euros a month.

“I’m a victim of the system but how could I fight for my rights if all my energy went into keeping my job,” he said. “I was so desperate at the time that I even accepted getting paid a lower salary. I’ve been treated unjustly but what can I do?”

He said that after being employed for six months at the school in Espoo, his employer didn’t renew his contract and never gave any reason why.

Avelino belies his family is “collateral damage” of the “migration crisis” that swept Europe. Photo: Enrique Tessieri.

Avelino said that especially his daughter, who did very well at school and who studied at Omnia, shed a lot of roots in Finland.  His son was going to graduate from high school in December but couldn’t because of the deportation.

Appealing the deportation case would have been too costly.

“We calculated that we’d need about 2,000 euros a month to survive without social assistance, which would mean 30,000-50,000 euros a year. With such a small amount of money if we’d pay rent and other expenses, we’d only have 400-500 euros a month to live on.”

One of the problems that Avelino had finding work in Finland is that many employers asked if he had a residence permit. “If you don’t have one they won’t hire you,” he said.

Avelino was especially critical of TE-palvelut, the employment office, which didn’t help him find work in Finland.

“They are very inefficient,” he said. “The employment officers tell you to find work in the Internet.”

Averlino did speak highly of Finland social welfare, which he considered “excellent.”

He said there are no such things in the Philippines and Indonesia.

For Avelino, his stint in Finland lasted seven years and five years for his two children.

“I guess I’ll go back to Indonesia and work for my old job,” he said.

One of the last messages I got from Aveilino in Finland was an email dated October 26:

On May 29 he wrote that he was still unemployed in the Philippines but was still hopeful: “I am not giving up because I always believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

* The real name of the person has been changed.