The Finnish Border Guard says it has cracked a ring of clandestine people-smugglers who arranged for around a hundred people over the last year to come to Finland and lodge claims for asylum.
The 15 suspects in the case all have Iraqi backgrounds, and the group includes Finnish and Swedish citizens. Those smuggled into Finland paid around 10,000 euros a head. The majority are Iraqi citizens.
"When you’re talking about a hundred people, that’s quite exceptional," said lead investigator Jukka Tekokoski. "It could be the biggest people smuggling case that’s ever been investigated in Finland."
10,000 euros per person
Those involved have made significant financial gains from the scheme, which charged up to 10,000 euros for clandestine journeys to Finland. They were busted during the spring during normal surveillance at the port of Helsinki, and when that case was investigated it turned up many more instances.
Finland is expecting between 30,000 and 35,000 asylum applications this year, a nearly ten-fold increase on 2014.
Tekokoski says that several investigations into similar cases are ongoing, and it’s possible that more will be opened before the end of the year. That’s because there are currently few legal routes into Finland, according to refugee advocates.
"Right now smugglers are the only option for people looking to leave Turkey," says Annu Lehtinen, MD of the Finnish Refugee Council, who welcomed the action against people-smugglers but said it was a symptom of a wider problem.
"People smuggling is a money-making enterprise and we should do everything we can to combat it, but that demands political will and legal routes to Europe," said Lehtinen. "This is not an issue Finland can solve alone, it needs joint decisions and joint action at a European and a global level."
Even if Finland can’t solve the problem without help, Lehtinen says that Finland has tools to assist more vulnerable refugees who don’t have the financial resources or physical strength to undertake risky crossings to Europe.
"We should look into expanding the number of quota refugees, but right now we are planning to reduce that quota back to 750. We should also look at making family reunification easier, but at the moment policy is heading in the opposite direction."
The government had raised the number of quota refugees from 750 to 1050 in response to the Syrian crisis, but that number is expected to drop back down to 750 in 2016 after pressure from the Finns Party.