What would a country like Finland, which prefers to be an island in Europe and where too many still see cultural diversity with suspicion, do if a record number of asylum seekers from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia came here in 2015?
Add to that question a government that has a party that is openly hostile to cultural diversity and asylum seekers and two right-wing mainstream parties that need the latter’s support to downsize the welfare state, and a clear picture emerges.
Asylum seekers are not only victims of the violence in their home countries but the hostility and poor treatment they have face in Finland. Photo by Enrique Tessieri.
In other words, this is what probably happened in the fall behind government closed doors. The anti-immigration Perussuomalaiset (PS)* turned to their partners in government, the Center Party and National Coalition Party (NCP), and asked them for help after their popularity plummeted in the polls.
“Our standings in the polls have gone into a tailspin ever since we joined the government,” a PS minister like Timo Soini would probably say with Juha Sipilä or Alexander Stubb interjecting: “Let’s make a deal. We’ll help you regain your popularity in the polls by supporting your plans to tighten immigration policy and you support our plans to downsize the welfare state.”
It’s a simple and clear-cut deal between the ruling partners. You scratch my back and we’ll scratch yours.
The Center Party and NCP allow the PS to have a free hand at promoting its xenophobic policies in government and in return the PS supports the Center Party’s and NCP’s plans to downsize the welfare state.
There are other important questions that need to be answered as well.
One of these is if Finland treats asylum seekers with dignity or like livestock but another important one is if there is a fast-track system in force now to deport as many people rapidly from Finland?
All asylum seekers go through the following procedure to get asylum: The first interview is with the police and attempts to establish the person’s identity, and the second one is by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri), which decides whether to grant asylum to the person.
“Usually the second interview with Migri is done hastily and interview appointments are sent in the last minute,” a source familiar with the process told Migrant Tales. “This means that people don’t have enough time to prepare adequately for that important interview.”
According to other sources, an email is sent by the police and Migri to the asylum reception center usually a day before the interview.
After the email has been sent, the big challenge is to find and inform the asylum seeker that his or her interview will take place the following day.
“Sometimes the person is found at 10pm and the interview takes place early in the morning,” the source continued. “There’s no way that a person can prepare for the interview never mind get legal assitance in such a short time.”
According to many asylum seekers, the interview with Migri is only “a formality” and “done deal” that lasts about one hour but can take in some cases 2-3.
“Since some of the asylum seekers don’t have an adequate educational background, there is another challenge apart from time and preparation: Some don’t know how to defend themselves,” the source added. “It’s difficult for some people with limited education to give a convincing and credible account about their lives in a war-torn country. They may be traumatized as well.”
Since there are a lot of unqualified people working at asylum centers, they may be directly reponsible for misinforming the asylum seeker about his or her rights and interview with the police and Migri. It’s nothing uncommon that interpreters have misunderstood what the asylum seeker said.
Is it an accident that asylum seekers are informed in the last minute that their interview with Migri take place in such short notice? Is this a systematic fast-track scheme to deport as many as people in the shortest time possible?
The sources that Migrant Tales got in touch with believe so.
One of the many challenges that an asylum seeker must face in Finland is getting a lawyer.
Like the asylum reception center business and the use of lawyers there is a lot of money involved, which means that there may be a lot of abuse as well.
Asylum seekers have access to lawyers but is limited to only their asylum case. Free legal aid doesn’t include humilitating treatment at reception centers or being locked up in a police cell for a minor infraction.
“In Helsinki, asylum seekers talk about three types of lawyers,” the source said. “One that pays me 50 euros, one that is free and another that I have to pay.”
According to the source, some law practices in Helsinki pay asylum seekers 50 euros for each new client they get.
Deportation proceedings work pretty rapidly. If the asylum seeker gets a negative decision from Migri, he has theoretically three weeks to appeal but in practice one week to get a court to halt his deportation from Finland.
“That’s why you need a lawyer to go to a court and stop the deportation from going ahead,” the source said. “Migri doesn’t tell the asylum seeker this important piece of information. Your chances to appeal Migri’s decision abroad aren’t good by any chance.”
If there is a systematic fast-track system to deport an estimated 20,000 asylum seekers from Finland this year, why aren’t the media and politicians looking into this? Why aren’t they interested in ensuring that these asylum seekers receive fair treatment and there right respected while in Finland?
We all know the answer to that question but too few are asking it.
* The Finnish name of the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English-language names adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We, therefore, prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings.