Finland's efforts in repatriating rejected asylum seekers have run up against Iraq's unwillingness to play ball. Baghdad has been reversing deportees from Finland and sending them back to Helsinki over a failure to produce the required travel documents, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
Finnish authorities regularly attempt to return refugees, who have received enforceable negative asylum decisions, but refused to voluntarily return to their respective home countries. According to Yasmin Yusuf, an activist with the "Right to Live" network assisting asylum seekers, the recent deportations were intercepted at the Iraqi capital's airport.
"The Iraqi police refused to accept them because they said that they were not returning voluntarily and that they had no passports," Yusuf explained.
Finnish police confirmed the events described by Yusuf, but declined to offer any further comment on the issue. Immigration police chief inspector Liisa Lintuluoto of the Helsinki police department has also refused to provide an explanation for the failure of the deportation flights to Iraq.
"This did indeed occur. However the matter is still ongoing and we cannot provide any additional information or explanations," Lintuluoto said.
Last year, Finland began to issue temporary travel documents for Iraqi citizens to ensure that deportation could be implemented in spite of a missing passport. According to Yusuf, the recent batch of deportees had the same type of temporary travel documents, which the Iraqi police for some reason refused to accept without providing further explanation.
While Yusuf admitted that it was the first time she encountered such a situation during her work with asylum seekers, she refused to view the incidents as anecdotal evidence, reflecting the whim of an individual Iraqi police officer.
"These three people were returned on two separate flights, in other words, this has happened twice within one week. I have also heard rumors that the same thing has happened in Denmark," Yusuf said. According to her, this change of policy toward deportation could affect the lives of many people.
Finland has spent years trying to broker a bilateral return agreement with Iraq, which would allow full charter flights with deportees to Baghdad. At present, Finland conducts irregular deportation flights with a small number of returnees.
Last year alone, Finland conducted 154 escorted returns. Additionally, over 1,000 Iraqis have agreed to leave Finland voluntarily. Earlier this year, National Police Commissioner Seppo Kolehmainen said that the return queue had some 1,700 names, most of whom came to Finland in 2015.
During the migrant crisis of the last several years, Iraqis have constituted the largest percentage of asylum seekers entering Finland. Since 2015, over 20,000 Iraqis have sought asylum in Finland, as opposed to some 10,000 Iraqis residing in the Nordic country before the migrant crisis.