Football as Pretext: Sham Supporters With Fan IDs Seeking Asylum in Finland

© Sputnik / Ilya Pitalev / Go to the photo bankThe opening of a 2018 FIFA World Cup Fan ID distribution center, Moscow. File photo
The opening of a 2018 FIFA World Cup Fan ID distribution center, Moscow. File photo - Sputnik International
The World Cup that kicked off a week ago has attracted thousands of football fans to Russia. Usually, a visa is almost always necessary for a trip to Russia. However, fans who bought tickets for the World Cup matches may come to the country using only a special "fan pass" or Fan ID, an opportunity sometimes abused to get to EU countries.

Amid the ongoing FIFA World Cup, Finland has seen several instances of foreigners seeking asylum using Fan IDs, national broadcaster Yle reported. According to the Finnish authorities, using sports events to gain access to the EU is a previously unencountered phenomenon.

On June 15, a citizen from a developing country applied for asylum at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. By his own admission, the bought a match ticket and obtained a Fan ID with the sole purpose of becoming an asylum seeker in Finland.

The same day, a Nigerian citizen was detained at Vainikkala checkpoint while trying to get to Finland to with a fake Brazilian passport. On June 17, three young Moroccan men crossed the Russian-Finnish border at Vaalimaa border station. While all the suspects stated that they had applied for asylum in Finland, both cases were classed as violations of the state border. The Nigerian was also suspected of forging documents. All four suspects detained at Finland's southeastern border came to Russia without visas using only the Fan ID.

"Some people are likely to misuse this document for other purposes than those intended. True, this was somewhat expected and we were preparing for such cases," analyst Ville Mihl at the border service of South East Finland said.

Marko Saareks, the head of risk assessment at the Finnish Border Guard, agreed that such cases were not completely unexpected.

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"We conducted our own analysis of the upcoming World Cup and expected that it would be so. A little surprised though that these cases happened at the beginning of the World Cup and in such numbers. We thought that this would happen only closer to the end of the competition, as the national teams will be dropping out," Saareks argued.

According to Saareks, using sporting events to gain access to the EU is a new phenomenon. Last year, Russia hosted the Confederations Cup, which many perceived to be a "dress rehearsal" for the World Cup. While the visa requirement for fans was similarly waived, not a single similar case was recorded in Finland.

This year, though, attempts to cross the Russian-Finnish border have been reported in the Republic of Karelia. On June 8, four Moroccans who allegedly arrived for the World Cup, were detained in the border zone near the town of Lakhdenpokhya. The court ruled to deport them to their home country, while slapping them with a fine of 2,000 rubles each ($32), Russian media reported.

The Fan ID grants its holder access to matches, while also allowing free rides on trains and public transport.

Annually Finland sees between five to ten attempts to cross the border illegally.

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