Finland’s recent decision to deport an Afghan family to Kabul has triggered debate about the country’s history of forcing asylum seekers to return to potential conflict areas.
As reported by Yle online, Finland changed its guidance for assessing asylum applications from Somali, Iraqi and Afghan nationals, making it easier to reject asylum claims and therefore deport people back to those countries. However, opponents point out that these countries are still considered unsafe for visitors.
Controversial deportation decisions are not a new phenomenon. Yle’s Finnish-language news reviewed deportation dramas that played out in 1990 and 2002.
In 1991, Soviet national Oleg Kozlov hijacked an airliner en route from Riga to Murmansk and ordered the pilot to land in Stockholm. But the plane unexpectedly taxied into Helsinki.
Five days later, Helsinki-Vantaa airport received another unscheduled flight. This one had been commandeered by Mikhail Varfolomeyev, who was also trying to get to Stockholm.
Both men applied for asylum in Finland, claiming persecution in their native Soviet Union for their refusal to serve in the military. At the time the Soviet Union was embroiled in war in Afghanistan and conscientious objectors were labelled as mentally ill and as “invalids”, and were stripped of many of the rights accorded to ordinary citizens. They were not allowed to marry, hold jobs, study or leave the country.
Finland decided not to grant the Soviet defectors asylum. Once back in the Soviet Union, Kozlov was sentenced to five years in a labour camp. Varfolomeyev, meanwhile, was handed a four-and-a-half-year suspended sentence. Kozlov served his sentence in one of five labour camps in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia.
Another case involved a Ukrainian family, the Shimanskyis, who sought asylum in Finland in 2001. They were refused.
Officials first attempted to deport the family in August 2002, but failed because family members put up a fierce resistance to the deportation effort. Police renewed their efforts in October after drugging the entire family – mother, father and two children aged 11 and 12 – with a sedative.
According to the family, they were not informed of what substance was administered, despite their queries. Under the effects of the sedation, the family was transported from an asylum seeker reception centre in Oravainen to Katajanokka in Helsinki, before being flown to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
A report revealed that the Shimanskyis were not an isolated forced-drugging case. It later emerged that Finland had opted to sedate other individuals due for deportation in previous years.
Current police board guidelines forbid the use of sedatives or other drugs to facilitate forced returns.