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As the snow buckets down, the temperature below zero and most locals are snuggled in their warm homes, spare a thought for the protesters camping out near the Helsinki Railway Station tonight. You may have not even noticed the two small opposing camps set on either side of the ice rink silently warring against each other, neither opting to be the first to budge. This has been the case for the past 12 days. Finland has become another country in the current global struggle to rehouse the dislodged refugee population. Stating this topic is an emotive subject which divides communities, is a massive understatement.
As I entered the refugee camp the community spirit encompassing them was noticeable. Several tents were pitched, a small fire, cake and snacks to ward off the chill. Several Finnish locals mingled among the group to show their support and I even saw local ladies offer bags of sweets to the group. I spoke to Mohammed Jabbar (a protester from Iraq) who said, “We are trying to stop the Finnish government from enacting forced deportation of refugees. We want the government to bring back the human residents permit or temporary permit which was stopped on May 17, 2016. Since this date, 70 people have been deported.”
[alert type=white ]“We think that after the refugees have received a rejection from the Finnish immigration authority they should return to their countries as the law states.”[/alert]
Secondly, the protesters are concerned about the separation of families within the assessment process. Concerns include the young and old remaining stranded culturally and linguistically. The uncertainty of their individual destinies doesn’t help in building advocacy to their new home. Jabbar said that all the protesters were from either Iraq or Afghanistan and that the Finnish Immigration Service had given a negative asylum result, which meant they were facing imminent deportation. The cause behind their protest was the recent deportation of a 19-year-old man.
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As we crossed camps to the much smaller but no less passionate opposing camp, we noticed a drastic change in atmosphere. It was obvious this camp was less favorable to the locals. There were several negative under the breath comments from passers-by.
I spoke to camp organizer Marco de Wit who has lived most of his life in Helsinki. “We think that after the refugees have received a rejection from the Finnish immigration authority they should return to their countries as the law states. We are protesting that the authorities are not enforcing this law and let the refugees stay even after a negative result,” he said.
He had many concerns including the Finnish government giving the refugees public housing even after negative results, and the reduced right to freedom of speech regarding this problem. Mr de Wit feels the authorities are not allowing his views to be aired. He advised of a magazine published locally, in which he utilized to voice his opinion, was recently shut down. What is the point of official screening if they are not deported once processed?” Mr de Wit said. He was concerned at the lack of empathy for his side of the matter. Mr de Wit declared that the “Suomi ensin” (Finland first) camp would not relinquish their position until the issues could be discussed openly or the refugee protesters camp was dissembled.
Only time will tell as to which camp will dissipate first. Let’s hope there is a happy medium reached soon which takes all aspects into account or the only winner here will be a bleak Finnish winter.