On a cold Finnish winter day, I was going through central Helsinki, when an asylum seekers’ demonstration got my attention. The bright decorations and children in colorful clothes were making a strong contrast with the gloomy, sunless day. People, covering themselves from the wet snow, were trying to attract attention. On the poster it was written: Refugee is not your enemy, enemy is who made them refugee.

I saw some demonstrations before, but this time I decided to talk to the participants. The openness of the asylum seekers motivated me to study the immigration crisis deeper. In my post series, I will try to get close to the people who are involved, get to know their stories and opinions about ongoing events. With this first post, I will give a brief overview of the crisis and tell about the long-lasting asylum seekers’ demonstration in Helsinki. All photos are made by me.


A (very brief) overview of the crisis

6 February, An anti-migration protest passes Mannerheimintie (street) in central Helsinki

Before getting into details, I would like to give a brief overview of the crisis in Finland.

This cutout from migri.fi statistics shows the decisions on asylum for 2016. Most significant numbers are for Iraq.

During 2016 I started noticing the protests from both sides, pro- and anti-deportation.

6 February 2016, anti-migration protest in central Helsinki

3 December 2016, Anti-deportation protest in central Helsinki, Senate square.

Asylum seekers’ demonstration in central Helsinki

In our time, it is difficult to hide from the news related to migration crisis. Attitude to asylum seekers has split the society and many of my friends into two groups. For a long time, I was avoiding the topic, hoping that the things would settle down over time. This demonstration in Helsinki eventually made me change my mind and start investigating.

March 11, 2017, the asylum seekers’ demonstration gathers a huge amount of people.

In February 2017, the asylum seekers’ demonstration has started in Helsinki at the central railway square. The aim is to stop forced deportations and to “apply a reasonable processing” for asylum applications. On the opposite side of the railway square, there is a nationalists’ camp. Police are constantly patrolling the area.

The majority of the asylum seekers I talked to were from Iraq, some people from Afghanistan and Syria. Most came 1-1.5 years ago and to the moment we spoke had a negative decision on asylum. The reason for denial was that immigration service considers their place of living “safe”.

Negative decisions left the asylum seekers confused. Some were showing me photos from their homeland on smartphones, asking: “Do you think this looks safe?”. Some of the asylum seekers said that they had a basic job already, but the denied application complicates further employment.

According to the asylum seekers’ supporters, after receiving a negative decision – the limited options are left: re-apply for the asylum or leave Finland. There have been cases of forced deportations. Those who don’t re-apply in time – lose their work permits, and if there is no new information to be added to the application – the procedure is likely to lead to the identical negative decision. After receiving a denial, some decide to stay in Finland “paperless”, losing all social security.

I have to say, I was very impressed with the positive attitude asylum seekers have, despite the difficult situation they are in. Many are smiling, except for the moments they speak about asylum decision, or about what made them leave their home. The demonstration has collected a huge amount of supporters. Many Finns are staying together with them during the cold nights, help with food and supplies.

To be continued…

More photos from the asylum seekers’ demonstration

Here are some random pictures from the asylum seekers and supporter at the demonstration.

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