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Undocumented migrants are hopeless and desperate - "They beg us to help"

A programme by the Helsinki Deaconess Institute offers help to undocumented migrants who have been denied asylum in Finland.

The Undocumented programme provides help and advice to migrants who have been denied asylum in Finland. Image: Juha Kivioja / Yle

On Fridays, community workers Suldaan Said Ahmed and Hayder Al-Jouranji roam the Puhos shopping mall in eastern Helsinki with the goal of finding undocumented migrants in need of help.

They work with the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, which launched the Unprotected programme in July to provide information and services to people without a legal status in Finland. 

"These people are stressed and hopeless," Said Ahmed says. "They beg us to help them."

Because they fear deportation, undocumented migrants are loath to contact the authorities even in an emergency. It is the community workers’ job to find this group of people and provide them support, advice and information about a voluntary return to their home countries.

"The only way to help is to listen and try to build trust." Only after that is it possible to talk about what staying in Finland without a residence permit means and what the consequences may be, Said Ahmed and Al-Jouranji say.

Undocumented migrants face a host of problems

The lack of legal status and residence permit tends to push migrants to the margins of society. The chances of finding work or housing in Finland are meagre, and undocumented migrants are prone to become exploited or treated poorly. In turn, their desperation can lead to radicalisation.

Al-Jouranji and Said Ahmed usually invite the undocumented migrants to their office where they can discuss their needs in peace. These range from legal assistance to health care and emergency shelter. Sometimes staff start by offering them a safe place to take a nap.

So far, the Unprotected programme, which is run in cooperation with the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) and the International Organisation for Migration, has helped 80 undocumented migrants.

In 2015, a record number of asylum seekers – more than 32,000 – arrived in Finland. Of the asylum applications that Migri handled in 2016, about a quarter came out positive.