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Iraqi police sending deportees back to Helsinki over temporary travel documents

Finnish police have confirmed reports that last week Iraqi police stopped deportation attempts to Baghdad and sent returnees directly back to Helsinki.

Ensimmäiset palautettavat turvapaikanhakijat
Iraqi returnees boarding a flight to Baghdad in February 2016. Individuals in the photo are not associated with the incidents in this story. Image: Helsingin poliisi

Finnish officials are facing a new hurdle in their efforts to repatriate rejected asylum seekers. According to information obtained by Yle, during the last three weeks, deportees returned from Finland to Iraq have been promptly turned around and sent back to Helsinki, with local officials saying that the returnees did not have the required travel documents.

Yle’s source is Yasmin Yusuf, an activist with the "Right to Live" network that assists asylum seekers. She said that individuals have received enforceable negative asylum decisions, but do not want to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.

According to Yusuf, Finnish authorities attempted to return deportees to Baghdad on two flights last week. However the deportations were intercepted at the airport in the Iraqi capital.

“Iraqi police refused to accept them because they said that they were not returning voluntarily and that they had no passports,” Yusuf explained.

Finnish police confirmed the events as outlined by Yusuf, but declined to offer any further comment on the issue. Immigration police chief inspector Liisa Lintuluoto of the Helsinki police department also refused to offer an explanation of why the deportation flights to Iraq were unsuccessful.

“This did indeed occur. However the matter is still ongoing and we cannot provide any additional information or explanations,” Lintuluoto said.

Previous deportations without passports

Asylum seekers in Finland who received a deportation order and do not want to return to their country of origin by way of voluntary return, will receive a police escort for a deportation flight.

Finland has also deported Iraqi citizens back to their homeland in spite of a missing passport. Last year, Finnish police began to issue temporary travel documents to ensure that such returns could be implemented.

According Yusuf, the recent cases in which Iraqi police turned back deportees involved the same temporary travel documents. She noted that for some reason, Iraqi police did not want to accept them.

“He said that they would not be accepted without a passport. There was no further explanation.”

Yusuf said it was the first time she had encountered such a situation during her work with asylum seekers. However she said she suspects that the incidents do not reflect the whims of an individual Iraqi police officer. She noted that the same had happened to three individuals on different days.

“These three people were returned [to Helsinki] on two flights, in other words, this has happened twice within one week. I have also heard rumours that the same thing has happened in Denmark.”

The activist wondered if Iraqi police had adopted a new policy towards deportations.

“It would change many people’s position and their lives. The asylum seeker community are up in arms over this,” she added.

Attempts to broker deportation deal

Returns would be easier if Finland could broker a bilateral returns agreement. In practice, it would mean that Iraqi officials would deliver the required travel documents to Finland and that Iraqi airports would accept full charter flights with deportees.

Finland has tried for years to settle such an agreement with Iraq, but to no avail. Nevertheless, Finland has conducted regular deportation flights, albeit with small numbers of returnees. Last year, Finnish police conducted 154 escorted returns. More than 1,000 Iraqis have so far voluntarily returned to their home country.

Up to April, there were some 1,700 people awaiting deportation, the majority of whom were Iraqi.

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