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More Asylum Deportees Seek Church Sanctuary

A greater number of asylum seekers who have received deportation orders are turning to the churches for sanctuary. Top on their list is the St. Michael Congregation in Turku. The Finnish Ecumenical Council is worried by the tougher stance taken by the authorities.

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The General Secretary of the Finnish Ecumenical Council, Heikki Huttunen, says no clear statistics are available about the number of deportees and asylum seekers who seek help from the churches. However, the phenomenon continues and numbers are increasing.

Towards the end of the year, the St. Michael Congregation in Turku has received requests weekly. The church was the first to grant sanctuary to a deportee, Iranian Kurd Naze.

Pastor Jouni Lehikoinen recalls the case of a mother and child from Central Finland who turned up at the church. He tried to convince the woman a church nearer her home would be able to help.

Lehikoinen explains many of those seeking sanctuary face a real threat or danger even execution if they are forced back to Iran or Iraq.

Tough Police Line

Heavy handed tactics employed by police in the case of a Kurdish couple who were deported during the night worries the General Secretary of the Ecumenical Council. The family was earlier assisted by the St. Michael Congregation.

He points to an increase in racialism and fears of a wave of asylum seekers.

Both Pastor Lehikoinen and General Secretary Huttunen reiterate the church does not hide asylum seekers illegally. Individual citizens can engage in civil disobedience in a systematic fashion against the will of authorities.

Lehikoinen hopes for a reassessment of police action.

“The Kurdish family with two young infants was seized in the early hours in the manner of a massive police operation. They were not criminals. Such behaviour could easily provoke a tougher stance against these people. The church would not be a party to this,” says Lehikoinen.