This year alone, six flights to Baghdad and Kabul have been organized, as opposed to around 30 flights in 2016. The recent wave of expulsions, though, triggered bitter criticism from human rights activists and the deportees themselves.
In recent weeks, continuous demonstrations against forcible deportations of refused asylum seekers were held in the metropolitan area, including Helsinki’s main squares, Senate Square and Station Square.
Earlier this week, protests mushroomed to Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport, as hundreds of migrants and Finns gathered to protest a flight to Afghanistan, organized by the Finnish Migration Board.
The bitter tone of the protests was undoubtedly exacerbated by rumors spreading throughout social media about pregnant women, children and disabled persons allegedly being on board the deportation plane, which was vehemently denied by the Finnish authorities.
The rumor, however, was spread by many notable Finns, including Green Party leader Ville Niinistö.
“All the rejected people were adults, no one was pregnant, and no one was in need of any assistance. On board the plane there were doctors, representatives of FRONTEX, and the Equality Ombudsman,” chief inspector Hannu Pietilä of the Finnish police told Finnish national broadcaster Yle.
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä argued that the expulsion of asylum seekers who were denied refugee status by the Finnish authorities was legal and took place in accordance with all international agreements. Sipilä also stressed that the flight to Kabul, where illegal immigrants were sent from Helsinki, departed peacefully and that the deportees did not resist, Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat reported.
The police, however, held a different opinion about the peaceful nature of the protests.
“It was by no means a peaceful demonstration without any resistance to authorities. Instead, the police had to clear up the situation, both physically and in one case with pepper spray. The incident was reported as obstruction of public authority,” Superintendent Jere Roimu told Yle.
However, Sipilä was supported by Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who stressed the importance of complying with the immigration laws of the Nordic country.
“It simply does not work this way.
You receive a negative decision, then you go to the Senate Square and sit there for a month, then have it replaced with a positive response,” a sarcastic Former Finns Party leader Timo Soini told Finnish newspaper Uusi Suomi.
Ironically, Soini’s own Foreign Ministry indirectly concurs with the protesters by calling Afghanistan an “unsafe” country and recommending fellow Finns to avoid traveling there at all costs. “The security situation [in Afghanistan] varies from poor to critical across the country,” the Foreign Ministry‘s website said.
Amnesty Finland legal adviser Susanna Mehtonen argued it was hard to follow what happened to the rejected individuals in their home countries, implying that a rejected person may end up jailed, tortured or sentenced to death in the event of an incorrect security assessment, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
Last year, Finland tightened the rules for obtaining asylum for the citizens of Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, after alleging that not all their territories were life-threatening.
The Finnish authorities also tightened the rules for family unification, which sparked outrage in the liberal circles of Finland.
Of late, efforts to increase the deportation of refused asylum seekers by air have been stepped up. The cost of a single return flight from Helsinki to Baghdad is estimated at 200,000 euro ($215,000).
According to Ilta-Sanomat, about 100 asylum seekers are returned to their countries of origin each week, including those who leave voluntarily.