Ilya Kapustin: Escape to Finland

iljasuomessa1_ulRussian activist Ilya Kapustin has fled to Finland, where he is currently seeking asylum. Photo by Pasi Liesimaa. Courtesy of Iltalehti

Russian Activist Ilya Kapustin, Seeking Asylum in Finland: “When the Stamp Thudded in My Passport, It Was Like a Huge Weight Had Been Lifted from My Shoulders”
Nina Järvenkylä
Iltalehti
March 10, 2018

A familiar looking man sits opposite me. We have met earlier via video link, but now there are coffee cups between us.

“I now feel considerably better than in Russia,” says Ilya Kapustin, 25, but he grasps for words when I ask how things are going.

Iltalehti interviewed Kapustin in early February, just a few days after Russia’s security service, the FSB, most likely abducted and tortured him. At the time, Kapustin was still in Petersburg, and the interview was conducted via video link. Kapustin is currently in Finland. He has applied for asylum.

Kapustin is still the same quiet and slightly nervous man as when we spoke the last time.

“I feel a bit shakey. I still sleep badly and cannot get to sleep. But the situation in Russia was even worse,” Kapustin says at first.

He says he also feels sad.

“I may never return to Russia.”

“More importantly, however, there is no threat to my freedom,” he continues.

Kapustin said earlier he was not terribly politically active. Now he can speak more freely because he has left Russia. The connections with terrorism, alleged by the FSB, are absurd. Kapustin has been involved in politics, however. He has been involved in activities opposed to Putin’s regime and the dominant power structures in Russia.

Due to the trumped-charges against them, his fellow activists in Russia could be facing as many as dozens of years in prison.

Escape to Finland
Kapustin decided to escape from Russia to Finland, like many other Russian dissidents and members of minorities have done in recent times.

In an interview with Yle, Esko Repo, head of the Finnish Migration Service’s asylum, said that as a whole it was a matter of hundreds of Russians who had applied for asylum in Finland. In 2016, the number was 192, and last year it was over 400. Repo told Yle there had been 73 applications since the beginning of the year.

Last year, 21 Russians had their applications approved, and 12 of these were asylum seekers.

Kapustin traveled to Finland in a quite ordinary  way. He bought a ticket for one of the minibuses that circulate often between Finland and Russia. The mode of travel was humdrum albeit nerve-wracking in Kapustin’s circumstances.

“At the border, one man was questioned for fifteen minutes,” Kapustin recounts how things went on the Russian side of the frontier.

He was afraid that he, too, would end up being grilled by officials. Luck was on his side, however.

“I noticed a second queue had been opened at the border checkpoint. I quickly moved over to it.”

“When the stamp thudded in my passport and the trip continued on the Finnish side, it was like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders,” Kapustin says.

Ilja Kapustin yrittää nyt järjestellä elämänsä Suomeen.Ilya Kapustin is now trying to put his life together in Finland. Photo by Pasi Liesimaa. Courtesy of Iltalehti 

“My Mind Was Playing Tricks on Me”
Just a day before his escape, their minds had been playing tricks on Kapustin and his loved ones.

Kapustin fled to Finland as soon as his visa was ready. The last night at his sister’s home had been excruciating, however. Kapustin can now smile at what happened, but that night nearly a month ago was as frightening living through a nightmare.

A minivan with dark-tinted windows was parked on the street in front of his sister’s flat. His sister and her husband did not recognize the vehicle, but it was quite reminiscent of the one in which Kapustin had been kidnapped and tortured in January.

“I was really afraid. I immediately packed my belongings and left their place in the morning,” Kapustin recounts.

It later transpired the vehicle parked in the street was owned by his sister’s neighbor.

“He had bought a new vehicle,” Kapustin laughs.

“My mind, however, was playing tricks on me, because I was really afraid at the time. Until I arrived in Finland I wondered who was in the vehicle lest they do anything to my sister’s family.”

Kapustin’s loved ones are under surveillance in Russia. For example, his brother-in-law’s VK social network page has been hacked. He had posted several articles about Kapustin’s case on his page.

“The [hackers] posted only a single link on the page. It led to the site of a well-known reality TV show,” Kapustin says.

In the event, the ludicrous part was that the reality TV show in question, Dom 2, had been hosted by TV presenter and Russian presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak. Kapustin regards the hack as bad police humor.

“They wanted to show us they can do whatever they like.”

Life in Finland
Kapustin’s parents and his sister and her family still live in Petersburg. The family urged Kapustin to flee after he had been abducted and tortured. Nevertheless, Kapustin told them about his escape only after he had arrived in Finland.

“Mom ordered me to leave, but I didn’t tell them ahead of time [when I was leaving] just in case.”

His parents and sister know about the events that led to the escape, but Kapustin did not tell them all the details. He believes the authorities will not go after his family.

“I’m not so interesting to them (the FSB),” he conjectures.

His life is in Finland now. Kapustin worked as an industrial climber in Russia and hopes he can find similar work in Finland.

“I worked in high places. We installed things, cleared snow from rooftops, and washed windows,” Kapustin recounts.

He understands the training he received in Russia is not necessarily valid in Finland and is prepared to study and do other work.

And how will he deal emotionally with the waiting, with going through the asylum application process, and coming to grips with the ways of a new society?

“I’m trying to think of it as an adventure so I can move forward. It is an episode in my life I’ll remember, and now I can remember it as a free man and not in prison,” Kapustin reflects.

If you haven’t heard yet about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you need to read the following articles and spread the word.

 

Finland Asylum Seeker Blues (MigriLeaks)

10 Problems with Migri’s Processes and Decisions

For the past month, Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers, in particular, have been demonstrating in downtown Helsinki. One of their central demands is that asylum cases in which there have been problems in the handling should be processed again.

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) systematically refuses to admit the problematic nature of its processes and decisions, let alone fix them. An excellent example of this was Migri Director General Jaana Vuorio’s op-ed piece, “A Negative Decision Is Not a Wrong Decision,” in the 3 December 2017 issue of Helsingin Sanomat. A negative decision is definitely not a wrong decision, but a flawed decision is a flawed decision.

What, then, are these problems?

1. Migri has been using inexperienced and inappropriate interpreters. For example, an Iraqi asylum seeker’s Arabic language interpreter may have been from North Africa. The Arabic dialects spoken in Iraq and North Africa differ to such an extent that the asylum seeker and the interpreter may not have understood each other seamlessly, whereupon the interpreter has made essential errors in the translation. Yes, the asylum seeker is asked whether s/he understands the interpreter, but this is difficult to verify when the asylum seeker cannot know what the interpreter is translating in reality.

2. Migri has been leaving essential questions unasked or unclarified in the asylum interview, even when the asylum seeker has clearly said s/he has more to say. (See, for example, Ali’s case.)

3. Migri has been ignoring and minimizing the testimony offered by the asylum applicants. For example, not all the written evidence has been translated and, among other things, the value of photographs and doctor’s certificates has been nullified.

4. The asylum process should be unique. That is not the case now, however. Migri, for example, has been copying and pasting the texts of asylum decisions that are not in any way relevant to the asylum seeker’s case. (See Item 1 here.)

5. Migri has been leaving out of negative asylum decisions essential details that have come up in the interviews, details suggesting the asylum seeker is at serious risk. (See, for example, Nouri’s case.)

6. In its negative asylum decisions, Migri ignores the fact that persecution is likely to continue in the future, even when the information and evidence given by the asylum seeker clearly indicates the persecution will continue. This, for example, is the case when the asylum seeker has been asked about at his or her parents’ home in the recent past.

7. It is quite common that the actual target of persecution, such as a family’s father, is being blackmailed by threats or even the kidnapping and torture of other family members. Migri, however, seemingly evaluates these cases more from the perspective of Finnish society than from the perspective of the asylum seeker’s society, and thus does not believe that children could be targetted for persecution in addition to the father, even when a direct threat to a child has been presented in evidence. (See Fatimah’s case.)

8. Migri refuses to believe so-called secondary information, for example, that an asylum seeker’s home has been subjected to bombing. Migri doesn’t consider this information reliable if the asylum  seeker has not witnessed it herself or himself, but has only heard about it from another family member, for example.

9. In its negative asylum decisions, Migri has admitted that the asylum seeker is subject to personal persecution, but the decision has been made, however, in light of the overall security situation in his or her country, not on the basis of the application’s personal criteria.

10. Migri’s country guidelines, on which [its assessments] of the safety of a country or region are rationalized, are based, at least in part, on outdated sources and are not in line with the UNHCR’s present guidelines.

Such are all the faults of this kind, which are not based on Finnish laws, but on Migri’s internal practices. Thus, Migri can also fix them.

Although Migri admits mistakes have occurred, it blames them on individual employees. However, the mistakes in Migri’s processes and decisions have been so widespread that they cannot be a matter of mistakes on the part of individual employees. Rather, the mistakes seem to be standard and deliberate practices at Migri.

Migri also evokes the fact that asylum seekers have the right to appeal decisions to the Administrative Court, which corrects possible mistakes. The Administrative Court’s decisions are mainly based on the documents produced by Migri, so mistakes that have occurred in Migri’s processes are repeated  rather than rectified in the appeals process.

MigriLeaks will return to these problematic points in more detail in future posts.

Source: MigriLeaks

Translated by Living in FIN. Thanks to Comrade AR for the heads-up and Comrade EN for help with the translation. Photo courtesy of Meeri Utti/Aamulehti