Russian asylum seekers leave Finland and then are eager to return

by , under Enrique Tessieri

THE STORY WAS UPDATED

For many Russian nationals of diverse backgrounds seeking asylum, the EU can be a house of mirrors, a labyrinth that leads you to dead ends. It isn’t easy to peer too deep into the future since ordinary days appear like years under these circumstances. One such case is of Russian asylum seeker Ludmila’s family that came to Finland in 2017 and, fearing deportation, fled the country in November with her elderly mother, husband, and three other family members, including four cats.

Ludmila said that she was persecuted in Russia for working with her brother at the US Embassy in Tiblisi, Georgia. She did not elaborate but stated that she and her relatives could face prison terms if they return. 

While Ludmila’s aim was to drive in two cars to France, their journey ended abruptly in Denmark, where they were stopped by border officials and returned to Sweden. They could not continue their journey because her mother suffered a stroke at the Danish-Swedish border.

Ludmila’s* 79-year-old mother is staying today in Fagerholt, a town located 156km from Malmö, where the rest of the family is staying. According to her, she has suffered six strokes, has epilepsy, diabetes, and suffers from heart problems.

“She is in a terrible condition and the staff at the care home [in Fagerholt] called and said that she needed hygienic products like soap, shampoo, and me clothes,” said Ludmila. “For some reason, my mother no longer was paid assistance, so she did not have money. To get these items, never mind the drive to Fagerholt, would cost a fortune for us. We get a weekly allowance of 134 krona [13.20 euros] a week.”

Fortunately for Ludmila, she was able to get help from other Russians at the camp for gasoline and buy items that her mother needed.

“Our situation [in Sweden] is terrible,” she continued without hiding her frustration, “We want to go back to Finland. It was a big mistake leaving.”

Ludmila claims that she was given misleading information from a social worker about their situation at the Imatra asylum reception center.

“The police visited us and said that we would not be deported back to Russia until we got the third ruling from the supreme court, which came on the same day,” she said. “The social worker advised us not to apply for asylum again [after three rejections] and that we’d be deported to Russia by force if we didn’t leave voluntarily.”

She added: “It goes without saying that we were shocked by the situation. We packed our things and left the country hoping that we’d reach France.”

Ludmila spoke highly of the ordinary workers at the Imatra camp but had criticism for the managers and the social worker, who treated some of the asylum seekers better than others.

“It was like an American crime movie,” she said, “Among the staff, there was the good cop and the bad cop.”

Living for six months in Sweden is nothing compared to what they had back in Finland. Ludmila said that the staff at the asylum reception center in Malmö don’t answer your questions and the food is terrible and “not fit for humans.”

Sobbing over the phone, she repeated her warning to other asylum seekers: “I recommend to everyone who is in the same situation as us to not run away from Finland and reach a dead end. Don’t leave. I don’t know what will happen to us in the future, but Finland is still better than this.”

Ludmila said that there are a lot of good organizations that help asylum seekers in Finland like Stop Deportations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. She encouraged asylum seekers should contact and seek help from such NGOs.

Some NGOs that help asylum seekers in Finland include Vapaa Liikkuvuus, Osaksi, Mosaiikki, Kaikkien Naisten Talo and Pakolaisneuvonnan hot line (weekdays 10-noon)

But there is a glimmer of hope in Ludmilla’s difficult family situation.

The migration authorities in Sweden have arranged for the whole family to return to Finland in May.

“We don’t have a specific return date, but we’d return by ship from Stockholm to Helsinki,” she said. “As I said before, I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, but we will apply for asylum again.”

Is she worried about what will happen when she returns to Finland?

“Of course,” she concluded. “We cannot see ourselves in Russia, which is out of the question. I love Russia, I have a lot of friends and memories there, but the political situation has not changed.”

*The name was changed to protect the person’s identity since she is an asylum seeker.