As of July, Finland still has 17,000 asylum seekers waiting on their decision from the state. 10,000 of the people awaiting word of their fate are from Iraq, 3,700 from Afghanistan, 1,500 from Somalia, fewer than 500 are from Syria and over 400 originate from Iran.
The Finnish Immigration Service has made concerted efforts to pick up the pace of its asylum decision-making this spring. It has hired 500 new staff and is currently churning out more than 500 decisions per week.
Finland grants asylum to people who feel they encounter personal persecution in their home country. Subsidiary protection is granted to those who face the death penalty or serious personal danger due to an armed conflict.
Until May 17 of this year, asylum seekers also were eligible to receive asylum in Finland for humanitarian reasons, but this was repealed in May with an amendment to the Aliens Act.
The Finnish Immigration Service also changed its policy in May with regard to people from the countries of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The official stand is now that people can be returned to these countries, as they face no serious personal danger there. The change also means that the agency can deny an asylum application if there is reason to believe that the person in question can find a place to live in safety within the country’s borders.
The stricter policy has been immediately reflected in the incidence of negative decisions handed down. In June 2016, 77 percent of asylum decisions for Iraqi applicants were negative, and only 10 percent were positive.
In comparison, from January to May of this year, the percentage of negative decisions for Iraqis was 28 percent, and 22 percent were granted asylum in the country. The rest of the applications were dismissed or lapsed before they were even investigated.
One man’s story
40-year-old Sabah Anzi from Iraq was so disappointed by his recent negative decision that he hasn’t had the heart to tell his family.
His problems began in Baghdad in 2005, where he was running a small kiosk that was frequented by American soldiers. Because Anzi spoke English, he and his loyal customers became friendly. After eight men in his extended family were arrested for supposed ties to Al Qaida, his relatives assumed that he was acting as an informant and threatened to turn him in to the authorities.
Anzi fled to Syria, taking his mother, father, wife and two small daughters with him. They lived there for seven years and Anzi learned to fix computers in an internet cafe. In 2012, the situation in Syria became so violent that the family thought it was best to return to Baghdad.
“I thought that after seven years it would be safe to go back, but I only slept one night in my parents’ house when I was attacked again,” he said.
Anzi, who has polio that makes his legs weak and one shorter than the other, fled again. He heard that armed men had stormed his parents’ house the next day, shooting at the windows, walls and door.
This time he escaped alone. He said he paid almost 12,000 dollars to travel from the Middle East to Sweden. He couldn’t afford to bring his family along.
“I thought that in six to eight months I would receive my papers and they would be able to join me.”
The wait begins
Anzi submitted his asylum application to the Swedish authorities and began his wait. He was rejected, but he appealed the decision. Two years after his arrival, in 2014, with only four days left in his appeal period, his relative suggested they visit Finland for a few hours.
He and his party were arrested in Finland after they crossed the border. Anzi and his relative were charged with illegally entering the country and people smuggling, as there were others in the car. The passengers in the car all later testified that they didn’t know Anzi and had not given him any money.
“If I was a people smuggler, I would’ve had money! When I was arrested I didn’t have a penny in my pocket. And if I was a people smuggler, wouldn’t I have tried to bring my family into the country?” he asks.
Anzi was sentenced to a year and 5 months in prison. His lawyer advised against an appeal. He ended up serving half the time as a first offender, and in August 2015, he was transferred to the Metsälä holding facility to await deportation to Sweden. For some reason, the deportation never happened, so Anzi applied for asylum in Finland.
He lived at Helsinki’s Kaarlekatu reception centre for asylum seekers while he waited to be called in for an interview. He tried to find work, but as an ex-con asylum seeker, he was unsuccessful. He volunteered to work as an interpreter at the centre because he spoke English so well.
“My whole life was hanging in the balance”
In December 2015, he was called in for his long-awaited interview. He was actually called in twice, first on December 7 and again on the 21st.
He waited six months to hear the decision, and it finally happened on June 29 at the Pasila police station in Helsinki. He had received a letter asking him to appear there six days before the appointment.
“They were the worst six days of my life. My whole life was hanging in the balance.”
The immigration authority told him that they saw no reason to grant him asylum, as they didn’t believe his life was truly in danger in Iraq. Anzi couldn't believe what he heard.
“I could appeal and wait another year, but what then? I have no further proof to offer them,” he said. “I’ll go back to Iraq, but I won’t stay. I will try to take my family to Turkey or Lebanon or Jordan because the situation in Syria is even worse than in Iraq.”