Helsingin Sanomat reports on a crowd of hundreds that gathered at the Helsinki Airport late yesterday evening to protest the forced returns of rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan. The deportation flight took off as scheduled shortly before midnight. A second associated protest is planned for today, Tuesday, at the Central Railway Station in downtown Helsinki.
Deportations are carried out by the Finnish police. A Helsinki Police spokesman told the paper that they do not release advance information about the flights as "so many different countries, airlines and officials are involved". Even so, a group got wind of the looming flight on Monday and started protesting at the Metsälä detention centre in Helsinki. From here, the group continued to the Pasila police station, and then on to the airport. The police estimate that over 200 people took part in the airport protest, some holding signs reading "Stop flights to Kabul".
Al-Jazeera reported over the weekend that Finland would be carrying out the forced returns to Afghanistan on Monday evening. The flight was apparently the third deportation flight back to Afghanistan since Finland and several other European countries signed an agreement on forced returns with the Afghan authorities last October.
The deal means Afghanistan has to accept an unlimited number of deportees from Europe, and is likely to herald a sharp spike in the number of Afghans returned to the country in 2017.
Safe for returns?
Human rights groups have criticized the involuntary return of people to Afghanistan, saying the country is unsafe, especially for certain ethnic groups. In May 2016, immigration authorities in Finland re-assessed the security situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia and declared them safe for nationals to return. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs still advises Finnish citizens to avoid all travel to these locations.
The Finnish Immigration Service handed down about 2,500 negative asylum decisions to Afghan applicants last year, about half of all asylum requests from that country. Many of the decisions have been appealed, so most are still awaiting a ruling from the administrative court.
President Xi arrives today
The Etelä-Suomen Sanomat newspaper out of Lahti says Helsinki will close its airspace to general aviation traffic today in anticipation of the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his spouse to Helsinki. Police confirm that the lockdown will take place from 6 am Tuesday to Thursday noon, but it is not expected to affect commercial traffic in and out of the Helsinki Airport.
The couple arrives in Finland today for a state visit at the invitation of Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. Niinistö and his wife Jenni Haukio will greet the Chinese President and his wife tomorrow April 5 at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. Traffic will be stopped in the capital city for about an hour.
President Xi also took time out to write an op-ed piece in Helsinki Times, in which he says he looks forward to more cooperation between China and Finland in clean energy, bio-economy and arctic research. China Daily also covers the visit, saying that the trip to Finland will be Xi's first visit to Northern Europe as China's head of state, and that he will continue from Helsinki to Mar-a-Lago in Florida to meet with US President Donald Trump on Thursday and Friday.
Last day for advance voting
Tampere's Aamulehti paper has an op-ed piece on the future of Antti Rinne. Ainola says the SDP hasn't been able to solidify its lead in the polls, and if it ends up losing its number one spot, it could spell the end for party chair Antti Rinne.
Ainola says Rinne hasn't come up with anything new for his party going into the local elections, choosing instead to use "the old food in the cupboard" and copy his predecessor Jutta Urpilainen's opposition to outsourcing social and health care services, a tactic that lost them the 2012 local elections. Last November, Rinne said he would "remodel" the government's reform plans if the SDP won the prime minister's seat. In a way, Rinne was therefore responsible for the government's rush to push the healthcare reform through before the next parliamentary elections, he argues.
The Aamulehti reporter says SDP's stubbornly obstructive tactics aren't working, and today's vote in parliament and TV debate will be the last time the party will make its case before the election is over and the race for the presidency has begun.
Today is the last day for advance voting in the municipal elections. Election Day is April 9.
All's well on the China Sea
And the Kaleva paper from Oulu carries an update on the Finnish sailing family that was trapped in a storm on the South China Sea. The paper reports that the boat is now out of danger and has weighed anchor. The family informed the Turku maritime rescue team that the weather is back to normal and everyone is fine but tired. They must now decide whether to sail 400 kilometres to Hong Kong, or continue on to the Philippines.