Declassified documents about Somalis shed light on how Soviet asylum seekers were treated in Finland

by , under Enrique Tessieri

This story published by MTV3about a secret agreement to return Somali asylum-seekers back to the then Soviet Union, forgets to bring up a very important question: Was there another secret document with Moscow to return Soviet citizens to the USSR if they sought asylum in Finland? 

The 1990 agreement, which was never enforced, became public knowledge after after it was declassified after 25 years.

Näyttökuva 2015-2-18 kello 8.47.39
Read full story (in Finnish) here.


While it is important that such documents become public because they shed light on a shameful era, MTV3 should have dug deeper and asked why would the government want to breach those international refugee agreements it had signed in the first place? How was it possible for the then government of Prime Minister Harri Holkeri to consider such a move?

The answer is simple: It’s because they had done this for decades with Soviet refugees and they apparently didn’t like the idea that black people from Somalia were moving to Finland. The hostile reaction of the Finnish media and public to a few hundreds of Somalis seeking asylum at the time reinforces the latter.

Tabloids like Ilta-Sanomat were responsible for spreading and reinforcing racism and intolerance. This billboard reads: Somalis will make Finland their home. The language used by the national media was racist and disrespectful. Source: Migration Institute archive.


Finland foreign population in 1990 was tiny, totaling only 21,174 or 0.4% of the population.

Thanks to Migrant Tales, it was possible to get in touch after over 20 years of searching with a former Soviet asylum seeker who was caught in Finland and returned back to the USSR. Aleksander Shatravka is one of twelve former Soviet citizens are on an Amnesty International list of people who were forcibly returned back to the Soviet Union.