Our image of Finland to asylum seekers is too rosy and full of myths that expose ethnocentrism and hypocrisy

by , under Enrique Tessieri

As a sociologist, it’s interesting to note how Finland portrays itself to outsiders. One of these presentations is a three-part Beginners guide to Finland published by the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS).  Just like the populist catchphrase maassa maan tavalla, in Rome do as the Romans do, asylum seekers and migrants are being fed myths about ourselves. 

All of the claims made in the FIS presentation can be contested.

The first claim by FIS is that equality is important. I, for one, hope so but is this true? Are asylum seekers treated with equality and respect?

Another claim that FIS makes is that public officials like the police are “safe and reliable.”

The problem with that statement, which shows a medic and lawyer as well, is that asylum seekers have limited access to such public services. An asylum seeker can see a medic only in acute circumstances and lawyers only give limited advice.

We are hearing near-constantly troubling stories not only about the mistreatment of asylum seekers inside and outside reception centers but how easily the police locks them up in cells for many hours without telling them why never mind explaining their rights.

One of these cases was of an Iraqi who was locked up for 15 hours in a police cell for apparently protesting the very late payment of his monthly 92-euro allowance.


Näyttökuva 2016-2-24 kello 7.49.59
The Finnish Immigration Service published for asylum seekers a beginner’s guide to Finland. See the whole guide here.

Security guards and staff at Luona, a private company that runs eight asylum reception centers in Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Hyvinkää, easily call the police if there is a problem.

Luona has been under media scrutiny recently for the poor treatment of its asylum seekers.

Migrant Tales reported recently that employees and security guards at Luona’s reception centers call the police “because they are too lazy or incompetent to solve a problem [with an asylum seeker].”

There is one case that we’d like to bring to light about how Luona and the police lock up asylum seekers too easily.  

An asylum seeker in the end of October protested at one of Luona’s reception centers in Vantaa for being moved to another room and had asthma.  The guards took his belongings and threw them in the hallway. More security guard reinforcements were called and soon the police arrived.

When the asylum seeker wanted to take pictures of what was happening, his telephone was broken by one of the security guards.

The asylum seeker was handcuffed and asked to stand under the rain for over an hour until the police arrived. He wanted to use the toilet but wasn’t allowed to. The only clothes he had on when this happened in the end of October were pajamas and sandals.

The asylum seeker was then taken with wet pajamas to the Tikkurila police station, where he was locked up from about 6 pm to 7 am. He asked to go to a toilet there as well. He was escorted to one with a toilet but he noticed after the door was shut that he was in a prison.

“I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet and the police treated me with disrespect,” he said. “They just laughed at me and didn’t take me seriously. They didn’t even tell me why I was going to the police station. It was so humiliating!”

The police released him in the morning after about thirteen hours. He was forced to walk from the police station to the reception center with his pajamas and sandals.  

If Finland is serious about integrating asylum seekers into our society, we should treat them with respect and with less suspicion.