We present you an article which is a story of the Finnish human rights activist who was trying to help Chechen refugees, the innocent victims of Russian dirty war in Chechnya since 1994.
According to Finnish law it is not illegal to help to arrange illegal entry, if there are humanitarian grounds for the action. It is a risky game to help fellow human being, though. A.H., who helped a Chechen friend, found herself in the middle of an international thriller, where even the officer working for the airline carrier is actually serving the Finnish Boarder Guard.
In the beginning of July 2009, I came back home after midnight and felt that everything was not right. Like somebody had been there.
I went to my desk, and there, spot on the place where my lap top should have been, was a handwritten note saying that the crime investigation unit of the Finnish Coastguard had made a home search and confiscated certain things and documents.
I called the number given in the note, apparently waking up officer M.K. “You were supposed to call me back in the morning” he complained. Like I care. ‘What is this about?’ I asked. I think he told me, but at the time my heart was beating so loudly I didn’t fully hear what he said. We agreed he would call me in the morning and invite me to the hearing.
From that night started a nightmare that will probably last until the prosecutor decides whether to file a charge against me about arranging an illegal entry or not. I try to avoid my home and hang around at friends’ places just like the Chechens in Istanbul waiting to find a safe place to live.
It all started early last summer, when an acquaintance of mine, a Chechen living and working elsewhere in Europe, asked me for advice. His relatives who had fleed from Chechnya were stuck in Turkey. Turkey does not grant asylums to Chechens, but calls them ‘guests’, which does not offer a formal status. Children can go to school but cannot graduate, obtaining health care and social benefits is difficult. There are thousands of Chechens in Turkey, however, because they do not need entry visa. Reluctantly Turkey grants them permits to stay for certain periods of time.
My acquaintance, let’s call him Aslan, had been told that if the Chechens in Turkey fly to Helsinki and buy a ticket to continuing flight to Russia, they can seek asylum in Helsinki.
The first attempt of the family of eight failed in the end of June 2009 in Istanbul airport. A local agent representing Finnair had prevented the family getting onboard. Aslan phoned and told about the situation. He did not ask me to help, but when I heard of the incident I decided to call the office of Finnair in Turkey.
It was new to me that the employers of the air carriers had started to work as assistants for our Boarder Guard. ‘Not a single Chechen steps onboard a plane during my shift’, told one Finnair employer who mumbled his name. ‘Finnair has to pay for 3,000 euros for each passenger who seeks asylum in Helsinki.’
I checked this and indeed transport companies can be fined if they carry passengers who don’t have all necessary documents, for example visas.
The Chechens stuck in Turkey had lost their money which Finnair – following their regulations – didn’t pay back altough the reason why the tickets had not been used was caused by an outside reason. Aslan and the family were worried, and I was furious.
It is said in the United Nations universal declaration of human rights that if a person is being persecuted he or she has a right to seek and have an asylum in other countries. But the Finnish law allows to fine those transport companies who carry potential asylum seekers. And that is not all. Both the asylum seeker who has entered our country using the method described here, and the person who has possibly helped him, have committed a crime.
I suggested the family to send me as much money as they can to be used for new plane tickets and we would collect the rest here. I would buy e-tickets online. Crime or not, air carriers make money because of this insane policy, if the buyers haven’t have a knowledge to buy a fully refundable tickets. Crime or not, these people needed safe place to live, and I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I now left them to the mercy of ridiculous law system.
I am not rich, so I had to split the eight persons in two groups to be able to buy the tickets. We agreed that the first three would come on Thursday and the rest on Sunday.
Oh, the mistakes I made! I bought the first three tickets using Turkish Airlines online service. After having made the payment, a text appeared on the screen: ‘If the tickets are paid for by credit card, the card holder must travel on that flight, or come personally to Turkish Airlines office to confirm that he purchased the tickets.’
What use would it make to pay extra for the money refund insurance, if I had to travel to Istanbul?!
I called the Turkish Airlines office at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport and heard that it would be enough if I went there to show my passport and credit card. So I did. The male officer was very friendly until he heard the names of the passengers.
‘Chechens?’ he asked suspiciously. ‘No no, it is not good. I will personally get 3,000 euros fine if I allow them to step onboard.” Did he lie, or does Turkish Airlines charge the fines from the pockets of its employers? The officer started to interrogate me about my motives, ticket prices, direct flights etc. Finally, after checking me, my passport and my credit card for quite a while, he asked for my phone number and told he would phone Istanbul.
I told Aslan this did not look good.
On Thursday morning three of the eight family members got themselves into the plane after all. Later I went to have a night out with my friends. When I came home, there awaited the handwritten note from which this story started.
On Saturday morning I went to the hearing at the police station. I had left my mobile phone at my friend’s place – in vain. The officer told me that they couldn’t let me go before they had my mobile. They made a home search at my friend’s place then to pick up the phone.
The hearing went as expected. The police tried to connect me with a Finnish male who also helped Chechens. I know him, that’s all. I admitted having bought tickets for three Chechens – no use denying, police had found the copies of the tickets in my place. Still I said I haven’t done anything criminal, because there is a sentence in our penal code saying, that this kind of action cannot be considered criminal if the motives of the helper are acceptable (no personal benefits achieved) and the circumstances in the country where the foreigner lives are such that he clearly needs protection.
The bad thing is that certain people in high places in Finland want this sentence removed from our penal code.
If you want to help people in distress, you have to act in a clever and professional way and not leave traces, like I did. Still, one thing stays: If you are a Chechen, you need to have a huge amount of luck or commit a crime to get to Finland to seek asylum. A lot is said about the importance of universal human rights declarations, but in practice the Western countries are trying to diminish them by deploying asylum policies that prevent people to get help.
It makes me ashamed.
Some of the readers might now think if I am going to help the five members of the family that are still in Istanbul. I think the Finnish authorities should now help them in order to unite the family, if the ones that got here get asylum.
Human rights activist Nataliya Estemirova, who was murdered in 15 July 2009, worked and helped people in indescribable circumstances. I don’t. Therefore, do I even have a moral right to stop helping?
Note: The writer of the article said that she helped to Chechen asylum seekers cause of humanitarian reasons. So she don’t want to promote her name with this action. We have respect her opinion and don’t share her name.