Of late, Finland has stepped up refusals to Iraqi asylum-seekers on the grounds that parts of Iraq actually may be considered safe, despite Daesh attacks. Additionally, pecuniary bonuses are being used to stimulate Iraqis into leaving Finland. At home, however, Iraqi returnees run the risk of torture and even execution.
Whereas asylum-seekers themselves and humanitarian organizations relate stories of death and torture in social media, Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, took a closer look at evidence to support the numerous reports. Helsingin Sanomat acquired four documents on Iraqis who voluntarily returned home. Two of them were confirmed as dead, whereas other victims reported assault, ill-treatment and torture, which indirectly confirm the worst suspicions about the returnees’ plight, who besides torture and death also risk forcible recruitment by radical militants.
Ali, a father of three children in his forties, is one of the returnees, and considers himself lucky to still be alive. After an unsuccessful tour to Finland courtesy of human traffickers in Turkey, Ali withdrew his application and returned to his home country. By his own admission, he was abducted and tortured for several months. The security situation in Iraq, which has in effect been a single battleground ever since the US-led 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom, has been an important issue in Finland in recent months. In May, the Finnish Immigration Board updated its safety review on Iraq and announced that the security situation in the country has improved, which was subsequently questioned by many experts.
Security in Iraq also varies from region to region. Southern Iraq is estimated to be relatively peaceful, whereas the extent of sectarian violence and atrocities surges in central Iraq and peaks in the Mosul area, which is still under Daesh’s control. Statistics on civilian deaths in Iraq vary according to sources. Recent UN figures indicate 1,120 civilian deaths in October, whereas Iraq Body Count puts the corresponding figure at 2,300.
The number of civilian victims reached a peak in 2006-2008 and increased again in 2014. Since then, the death toll is estimated to have fallen somewhat, but Iraq Body Count, nevertheless reported over 14,000 civilians dead this year alone. So far, about 1,500 Iraqi asylum-seekers are estimated to have returned home. Incidentally, Iraqis make up the majority of last year’s “crop” of refugees in Finland. In the wake of last year’s migrant crisis, Finland has kept tightening asylum rules for Iraqi citizens, insisting that some areas of Iraq were perfectly safe.
Afterwards, Finnish authorities organized charter flights to Baghdad for those wishing to return to their homeland. At the moment, Finland is developing a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi government on forcible return of asylum-seekers, who had been denied refugee status by the Finnish immigration authorities.
In 2014, nearly 13,000 people of Iraqi origin lived in Finland, according to Statistics Finland. In 2015, 15,400 Iraqi asylum-seekers arrived in the country. As of October 2016, 6,300 Iraqis received a negative asylum decision in Finland. According to Päivi Nerg, permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, Finland spares no effort to stimulate “as many Iraqis as possible” to voluntarily return home.