BOX STORY: Mohammed Saleh Muhsin

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Mohammed Saleh Muhsin, 26, is one of the many thousands of young Iraqi asylum seekers that came to Finland in the fall. Like many of his countrymen, he too speaks of the violence and strife strangling Iraq. 

He spoke to Migrant Tales about his treatment at two of Luona’s reception centers.

“I arrived on September 23 in Tornio from Baghdad after travelling 35 days. I was sent the following day to an asylum reception center in Vantaa located on Sokkakuja 1.

I was treated well by the border guards in Tornio but I cannot say the same about the people who work at two Vantaa reception centers: the rooms where we slept were small and crowded. In the room I slept there were seven persons. Both buildings of the reception center first housed around 78 people but then it rose to about 300 when they closed another reception center near the airport in early December.

The food they serve is horrible and the portions are small. Breakfast consists of a slice of cheese, 2-3 slices of bread, yogurt and a small fruit. There is very little variety: chicken nuggets or meatballs with rice, salad without dressing and soup. I am usually hungry because they don’t serve enough food and because it’s so bad.

It’s a fact that we are mistreated daily by the staff and security guards. I know this not only from personal experience but because I was chosen by the other asylum seekers at the center to be their spokesman. Some of my tasks as represenative of the other asylum seekers also included translating and bringing complaints to the director from others.

The director would usually listen but nothing was done to solve our problems.

The security guards were especially unfriendly and they’d commonly address you like some of the staff with a cussword like vittu. In plain English we are treated with disrespect and in a racist manner. You can easily tell from them that your presence bothers them. None of the guards spoke Arabic. There was only one that spoke a little Turkish or Kurdish. We are treated like livestock that can be moved from one room to another.

All the asylum seekers at the center get paid a monthly assistance of 92 euros but it isn’t paid regularly on the same day. This is the reason why I paid a visit to the vice director in December and why they locked me up in a police cell for fifteen hours. That small amount of money we get means a lot to us. Life is expensive in Finland and with it we must buy many things like bus tickets, food, clothes, soap and other important items.

We had one manager who was good but she left in protest after being there for two and a half months. She didn’t like the way Luona treated us. A new manager was appointed but matters got worse.

When I went to inquire about the late payment of the 92 euros to other asylum seekers there was an interpreter present who spoke Arabic. He got cross and raised his voice at me. He told me in the presence of the manager that I should shut up and that I didn’t have any right to complain because I was a refugee and that the reception center isn’t a hotel. The manager stood in between us because she feared that a fight would erupt between us. The only thing I said was that my payment was late and that my human rights were being breached as a result. The manager assured me that the money would be paid at the end of December.

But then something else happened. Some security guards appeared and one of them handcuffed me from behind and took me out of the office. The police came 10 minutes later. Even if the interpreter told the police that I hadn’t threatened him, I was taken to the police station and locked up in a cell for fifteen hours from 2pm to 5am. The police never told me why I was arrested but they said I could file a complaint if I wanted.

I took the train back to the Vantaa reception center from the police station and thought everything was ok. When I got there I was told to go to the manager’s office and told that I’d be transferred to another center for “security reasons.” I was accompanied by a security guard and told I had 15 minutes to take all my belongings and would be transferred to another Luona reception center on Kutomotie 9 in Helsinki.”