Asylum seekers' drivers unpunished – applied for asylum, too

More asylum seekers have arrived in Finland from Russia during the first six weeks of this year than all of last year. The first convictions for arranging illegal immigration were handed down on Friday.

Turvapaikanhakijoiden käyttämiä autoja Sallan raja-asemalla 23.1.2016
Cars abandoned by asylum seekers at the Salla border point. Image: Uula Kuvaja

The District Court of Lapland has ruled on first cases involving the arrangement of illegal entry into Finland over its north-eastern border with Russia. In mid-January, a Nepali man brought four foreigners without visas from Russia to Salla, Finland, while an Indian man brought five in. Both drivers and all of the passengers have applied for asylum.

The 22-year-old Nepali says he travelled to from Nepal to Murmansk with a Nepali friend. There he says he bought a Toyota Corolla with the help of a Russian man, and headed toward Salla.

"Assisted by Russian officials"

He took along two Indian men and the Russian man, who got out about 100 kilometres from the border. At the Russian passport control on January 17, two African men also got into the car. They were being assisted by people whom the driver believed to be Russian officials.

The court ruled that the Nepali man must have considered it likely that the others in the car lacked proper documents for immigration. It also ruled that the passengers were the victims of exploitation and that he must have known this.

By letting others into the vehicle, the driver had thus been aiding their exploiters. The man was also a victim of exploitation himself. The man argued that he could not have travelled to Finland except by car, and that he could not control who else got into the car.

Toyota and Lada forfeited to state

The court declared that in such situations it is generally arbitrary who is the driver and who are the passengers. It convicted the wheelman of arranging illicit immigration, but did not sentence him for the crime. The Toyota was ordered to be handed over to the state.

The second case, which took place the following day, was very similar. A 23-year-old Indian had bought a car in Russia to drive to Finland. At a Russian checkpoint between Alakurtti and Kelloselkä, five strangers got into the car. They were from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. They all sought asylum in Salla.

The district court declared that the driver and passengers were probably all victims of exploitation and ruled in the same way as the previous case. In this case a Russian VAZ (Lada) car was forfeited to the state of Finland.

More than last year already

Last year nearly 700 asylum seekers from 32 countries crossed from Russia into Finnish Lapland via the Salla and Raja-Jooseppi border posts. More than 700 asylum seekers have arrived so far this year. The matter was on the agenda when Finnish President Sauli Niinistö met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev on Friday evening in Munich.

The Border Guard has launched about 100 investigations into suspected cases of arranging illegal immigration.

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