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Asylum seeker killed in Iraq weeks after repatriation from Finland

The daughter of deceased asylum seeker Ali is also awaiting deportation back to Iraq with her Finnish-born infants.

Ali's daughter Noor is still in Finland and also faces a deportation order. Image: Sasha Silvala

It was mid-December in the Iraqi capital. Four shots rang out. Three of them hit a 46-year-old Iraqi man, Ali, eventually killing him.

Just weeks after being deported from Finland, Ali was now dead. According to information obtained by Yle, the man had applied for asylum from Finland but was denied, following which the courts executed his deportation order.

A death certificate issued by a Baghdad hospital listed Ali’s cause of death as three gunshot wounds to the head and body. According to eyewitness accounts provided to Baghdad police, unknown men travelling in a Nissan Navara pickup truck bearing no license plates had opened fire from the vehicle. The incident occurred on Sunday 17 December, 2017.

Last week, the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri issued a report by two researchers, who described the security situation in Iraq as variable but improving. The staffers visited the capital Baghdad from October to November and declared that in spite of violence and kidnappings, the city was safer following the defeat of the extremist group ISIS.

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Ali’s daughter Noor is still in Finland with her small children. She was also denied asylum by Finnish authorities and is living under the shadow of a deportation order.

She told Yle that she heard of her father’s death a few days after the incident from her grandfather, who found his son’s body at Baghdad’s al-Ribbi hospital. Noor’s grandfather sent her the death certificate as well as a police report on the case.

“When I found out about his death, I started to shake and I didn’t know what to do. At first I thought that I wish I had also returned and died with my family,” Noor said.

She noted that Ali had not been long in Iraq before he was killed. Father and daughter were not able to speak often on the phone after his return. Ali’s last words to his daughter were written in Facebook.

“He wrote, ‘Darling, I hope you are well. Don’t worry, I arrived safely. Take care of yourself and the girls. Be strong and you will get through.’”

Noor said she is not so sure. “I don’t want to break down in front of the girls. I have to show [them] that their mother is ok. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”

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Noor was just 19 years old when she came to Finland with her father seeking asylum in 2015. Since then, she married an Iraqi man living in Finland. The couple have two daughters aged 18 and six months.

According to decision handed down by the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, both children must also be sent to Iraq along with their mother. Noor said that in their decision, the authorities declared that it is in the children’s interest “to grow and develop in an appropriate manner surrounded by their relatives and their support in their home country Iraq.

“My husband is here and the children were born here. Why are we being separated – the father from his children,” Noor asked.

"Painful" wait for deportation

Ali’s tragic end came to Yle’s attention because the public broadcaster had interviewed him for a documentary about asylum seekers in Finland.

In an interview conducted in Janury 2017, Ali said that he’d fled Iraq because he was a police officer who refused to take bribes. He wound up in trouble for doing his job honestly.

“I was investigating human rights and corruption [cases]. I took my job very seriously. I refused to be bribed. I don’t belong to any armed group and I don’t support anything like that. And those people see me as an enemy,” Ali said at the time.

Documents obtained by Yle shed no light on who killed Ali and why. His daughter said that she is sure that the same persons responsible for Ali’s death are the ones he fled two and a half years ago. She pointed out her father’s last few months in Finland had been painful.

“Dad was distressed and exhausted. He was overcome with worry, completely overwhelmed. He feared that as soon as he went back he would get into trouble and be killed,” she explained.

Court rejects appeal, denies further action

Ali and Noor are not the only asylum seekers dealing with negative asylum decisions from Finnish authorities. Over the past two years, Migri has denied roughly 18,000 applications for asylum – 11,000 of which were from Iraq.

The proportion of Iraqis being denied asylum in Finland is still rising quickly. When Ali and Noor arrived in Finland in autumn 2015, 15 percent of Iraqis received negative asylum decisions. By summer 2016, the proportion of denials for this group was 90 percent.

Not all rejected applicants appeal their decisions in court. Noor and her father did. According to Yle’s sources, the administrative court upheld the Migri decision not to grant them asylum, and they were also denied leave for further appeals by the Supreme Administrative court.

When a rejected asylum application becomes enforceable by deportation, one alternative is to remain in Finland without a residence permit and face a possible forced repatriation by Finnish police. Another option is to leave the country under a system of voluntary returns overseen by the Interior Ministry and the International Organisation for Migration. In such cases, returnees receive a maximum of 1,500 euros to return to their countries of origin.

Yle understands that Ali choose the latter option, voluntary return. Noor said that she doesn’t know what to do next.

“How can I return with my girls when the situation is so dangerous? I’m not afraid for myself, but for the girls. They’re just children.”