Deportees

Odotus vaeltaa maisemaa
kuin muistot läpi koko entisen elämän.

Waiting to wander the landscape
like memories through a whole former life.

—Hannu Salakka, Kesä kesältä syvemmin (Otava, 1977), p. 41. Translated by Living in FIN

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The shameful thing about Finland’s deporting legitimate asylum seekers back to clearly dangerous countries like Afghanistan and Iraq is that there is so much empty commercial and residential space in many Finnish cities and towns that all the asylum seekers Finland temporarily granted refuge during the peak “crisis” year of 2015—approximately 33,000 people, according the Finnish Migration Service’s own statistics—could easily be spread around the country and housed in all that empty space, which is either ready for habitation or could be easily and quickly adapted as living quarters, especially given the Finnish construction sector’s otherwise dangerous eagerness to generate new work for themselves.

Adapting these people to life in a new, very different country is another matter, but it’s not as if Finland hasn’t done it before. After the war, the country took in way more refugees from the parts of Finland ceded to the Soviet Union than it would have to take now (granted, they were already Finnish-speaking Finns), and in much later times, people from Somalia, the Sudan, and other war-torn countries found refuge in Finland in fairly large numbers. A whole generation of these refugees’ kids have already grown up who speak Finnish perfectly and are mostly doing well in life.

One of them was recently elected to the Jyväskylä city council from the Greens: she got the second highest vote tally in the entire city. What a sad irony that the latest deportation of the new asylum seekers, on the run from the wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, should take place in Jyväskylä. (See Yle’s article, below.)

So what’s the real problem? The real problem is the current “bourgeois” government, which I predict will go down in flames at the next elections in 2019. Unfortunately, before that happens, they will have managed to wreck much of Finland’s social democracy—all in the name of a mythical “competitiveness”—and blacken the country’s reputation with this wholly unnecessary asylum seeker farce.

In reality, Finland’s population is aging rapidly, so why not take a chunk of refugees, only too happy to live in a peaceful country after the hell they have been through in their homeland, and put some of them to work looking after the country’s elders, while the rest can be employed elsewhere (including building houses for themselves as needed) or start their own businesses. What could be more “competitive” and “innovative” than that?

But no, Finland’s ruling coalition has a weak link in the shape of the so-called Finns Party, which over the summer was taken over by its far-right wing in the person of the certified racist Jussi Halla-aho, causing the party’s previous chair, Timo Soini, and the party’s entire parliamentary delegation of twenty MPs, including all its government ministers, to bail and form a new party called New Alternative.

The other two parties in the coalition, the Center Party (which won the most votes in the last elections and controls the prime minister’s office) and the National Coalition Party are not exactly known for their racist policies, but I can easily imagine they are so lacking in backbone and imagination that they promised the Finns Party not to accept “too many” asylum seeker claims in order to keep them onside voting for their other so-called reforms.

Ironically, it was just this that had caused the ratings of the Finns Party to sink precipitously, because their supporters are all for Finnish social democracy, just Finnish social democracy for ethnic Finns and Finnish Swedes. Suddenly, their party’s leadership blindsided them by going into government (something they said they would never do if it was not on their own terms; that is, if they had not won a plurarity of votes and were the party forming the new government) with the country’s two major “bourgeois” parties, who were hellbent on a program of heavy austerity to alleviate Finland’s very real economic woes.

So, basically nobody is getting what they want, and the country is making itself look cruel and foolish to boot, when in reality, given the gains in the ratings made by the Social Democrats, the Left Alliance, and the Greens, who are now the second most popular party in the country, this crackdown on asylum seekers probably does not reflect the popular will at all.

It reflects two things: a) a tiny racist minority that weaseled its way into government even as its popularity was falling (it did much better in the elections before last, when absolutely all the other parties were still determined never to allow the Finns Party into government), and whose popularity has now tanked altogether, but which is still somehow managing to set the tone in the government’s approach to asylum seekers, and b) a migration service that has been poorly equipped to deal with so many asylum seekers, especially in terms of decent interpreters, so it has been making asylum decisons, or so I have read on activist websites, based on partial or false information.

The people in Finnish (or EU?) officialdom who made up the fairy tale that Afghanistan and Iraq are “safe” countries again are the real culprits, however, not the wacko racists like Jussi Halla-aho, who have always been fairly easy to neutralize in one way or another.

I have no idea who these people were. They should be outed, at very least. LIF

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Despite Jyväskylä protests, police start deportation of Afghan family
Yle
September 5, 2017

Dozens of demonstrators outside an asylum reception centre in Jyväskylä, in central Finland, attempted to prevent police from removing an Afghan family ordered to be deported on Monday afternoon. But several hours later after the arrival of several backup units, police announced that they had carried out the family’s removal from the centre at around 6 pm.

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Police had originally planned to begin the deportation of an Afghan family at about noon on Monday when they were surrounded by a human chain of people who temporarily foiled their attempt to remove them.

Police had reportedly used pepper spray after being attacked by some demonstrators, according to police.

More officers outfitted in riot gear arrived to the scene at about 16:45 pm and in a tweet about a half-hour later, police reported that the reinforcements would enable them to carry out the deportation operation.

According to Detective Chief Inspector Jari Kinnunen a few dozen protestors had taken part in the incident.

“It was a few dozen protestors. The police are trying to solve the situation peacefully, by negotiating as long as required,” Kinnunen said at about 3 pm.

“If we go back, we’ll be killed”
The family being deported—a father, mother and their eight month-old baby—are originally from Ghazni, Afghanistan.

Before leaving Afghanistan some two years ago the father worked as a taxi driver.

The father said that the family could not return to Afghanistan because they were Shia Muslims, saying that they faced persecution there.

“If we go back we’ll be killed,” the father told the newspaper Keskisuomalainen.

Roughly 80 percent of Afghanistan’s population, including the Taliban,are Sunni Muslims.

Photo courtesy of Lehtikuva/Juha Sorri

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

The Death of Einonkatu 6

The merciless of human beings towards the natural environment, the built environment, and each other is going to catch up with them soon, I’m afraid.

The latest victim is a handsome apartment block in Imatrankoski, Imatra, built before the war (if I’m not mistaken) by Jalmari Lankinen, the then-head architect of Finland’s thriving second city, Viipuri (Vyborg).

Einonkatu 6
Einonkatu 6 in Imatra bites the dust. April 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Inka Nordlund and Uutisvuoksi.

I still haven’t figured out why this building had to go, even though I’ve read several incoherent explanations by city planners and developers in the local daily rag over the past year.

Most everywhere in the world, city planning and the construction business are rackets and mafias, and the real reason they knock things down is just to build something else in their place, almost always uglier, taller, needlessly expensive, and much less functional.

Lankinen is one of the most victimized architects from the glorious heyday of funkis (Finnish functionalism). Out in a gorgeous spot on the Lake Saimaa shore called Tiuruniemi, which is technically part of Greater Lappeenranta but is geographically part of Greater Imatra, Lankinen built an absolutely lovely tuberculosis hospital right before the Winter War, which then served as field hospital once the war started.

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Tiuru Hospital. Photo by Living in FIN

Not so long ago, Tiuru Hospital served as the asylum seeker and refugee reception center for this part of Finland, but when developers decided to turn the nearby Rauha psychiatric asylum (another place with lots of good architecture, including some fine exemplars of funkis) into Holiday Club Saimaa, a retreat for bourgeois Russians flush with cash from the “prosperity” of the era of Putin 2.0, the asylum seekers were moved to a recently closed prison south of Joutseno, out of sight and mostly out of mind.

Holiday Club Saimaa and the Lappeenranta authorities had some vague plans to do something with Tiuru Hospital, but when the Russian and Finnish economies tanked, those plans came to naught, and the hospital has been sitting unoccupied in the woods for many years now. Recently, the Lappeenranta authorities made the Solomonic decision to stop heating the building, allegedly, because it was costing them too much. So now its degradation will proceed apace, although it is a listed building, supposedly protected by the Museovirasto or some such government agency.

When the refugee crisis struck, it occurred to me it would be a perfect opportunity to fix up Tiuru Hospital and fill it with life again, but inexplicably the Finnish Red Cross and the immigration authorities chose a hotel in Imatra that had fallen on hard times to accommodate its tiny quota of refugees.

Actually, there are so many empty spaces in Imatra and other parts of South Karelia, you could probably easily house all the inhabitants of a small Syrian city here without anyone noticing.

But instead we get absolutely meaningless “renovation” and “urban renewal,” as pictured above, instead of an exciting experiment in learning to live together with perfect strangers and redefining Finnishness (and Europeanness).

Who needs it?

Finnish Values

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö

I went to school with Finnish kids, meaning the grandchildren of people who had emigrated to Minnesota eighty or ninety or a hundred years earlier “seeking a better life,” which in Finnish President Sauli Niinistö’s new and bold reading of “western values” is a pejorative phrase. Back then, it meant escaping bone-crushing poverty, unemployment and sometimes even famine in Finland itself.

It was a really a good thing Finns immigrated to Minnesota in such large numbers because, especially up on the Iron Range (the northeastern part of the state where the great Bob Dylan hails from), the Finns were the most militant and well-organized trade unionists among the newcomers (and the old-timers), who also included other Scandinavians and lots of folk from Yugoslavia.

I won’t bore you with the details (you can read whole books on the subject), but many of these newly arrived Finns were (or became, under the pressure of the working conditions they faced in their new country) kick-ass left-wing radicals, and their values definitely changed the state’s collective values for the better. I imagined that things have slipped in this respect since I was a kid (or, rather, since when my parents were kids), but Minnesota once had the reputation of being the most “social democratic” state in the Union, and it had got that way due in no small part to the militant Finns and the injection of funny “alien” values they gave our fair state.

Why do you think Bob Dylan (a middle-class Jew from Hibbing) idolized Woody Guthrie? Because Guthrie preached and lived the values that were professed and lived by hundreds of thousand people in Dylan’s own native land, the mighty Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

As an amateur friend of Finland, it’s maybe not my place to say this, but I think the best thing that could happen to Finland right now would be for the definition of Finnishness to become a lot more inclusive as quickly as possible, just as the definition of being Minnesotan has had to expand, successively and rapidly, to include the rabble-rousing Finns, the hardworking Hmong, the elegant Somalis, and the absolutely essential in all ways Mexicans, just to mention a few groups of immigrants and refugees who have enriched our state in many and different ways.

Because the alternative, you might have guessed, is pandering to the neo-Nazis, racists, and hatemongers who have suddenly felt emboldened, after their forebears were thoroughly defeated in WWII, to come out of their holes and caves and strut their stuff again. And President Niinistö strangely feels more sympathy for the “hurt feelings” of these thugs than for people who in their vast majority are not (“quaintly,” I want to say) just “seeking a better life,” but actually escaping from all-out war, bloody mayhem, and total societal breakdown.

I really regret that Pekka Haavisto of the Greens was not elected president of Finland in 2012. He would not have sunk to this new low in the history of Finland.