‘Finland’s no good:’ Disappointed migrants turn back

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Updated 26 September 2015
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‘Finland’s no good:’ Disappointed migrants turn back

TORNIO, Finland: Hundreds of predominantly Iraqi migrants who have traveled through Europe to reach Finland are turning back, saying they don’t want to stay in the sparsely-populated country on Europe’s northern frontier because it’s too cold and boring.
Migrants have in recent weeks been crossing back into Sweden at the Haparanda-Tornio border just an hour’s drive south of the Arctic Circle, and Finnish authorities have seen a rise in the number of canceled asylum applications.
“You can tell the world I hate Finland. It’s too cold, there’s no tea, no restaurants, no bars, nobody on the streets, only cars,” 22-year-old Muhammed told AFP in Tornio, as the mercury struggled to inch above 10 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) on a recent blustery grey day.
He had already traveled from Tornio to the capital Helsinki almost 750 kilometers (465 miles) south, and then back up to the Tornio border again to return to Sweden.
Migrants who lack proper travel documents are unable to take the ferries that run between Helsinki and Stockholm.
Another group of around 15 Iraqi refugees waiting at the bus station that Tornio shares with its Swedish twin town Haparanda also said they wanted to go back to southern Sweden. “Finland is no good,” the men echoed each other.
Sweden may be just as cold as Finland, but Sweden has bigger immigrant communities because of a longer history of integration.
On Sept. 19, several busloads of migrants made U-turns on the Swedish side when they saw hundreds of Finns form a “human barrier” on the Finnish side to protest against the sudden influx of migrants.
Anti-immigrant sentiment may be prompting some migrants to leave Finland, where the populist Finns Party is the second-biggest political party.
Early Friday, around 40 demonstrators — including one dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit — threw fireworks at a bus transporting asylum seekers to a new reception center in the southern city of Lahti.
Another incident took place late Thursday in Kouvola, in southeastern Finland, when a 50-year-old man threw a petrol bomb at an emergency housing facility for asylum seekers.
It is difficult to know exactly how many migrants are heading back to Sweden, since some don’t even register in Finland before leaving.
But according to the Finnish Immigration Service’s head of asylum applications, Esko Repo, “by last week around 200 applications from Iraqi asylum seekers had expired,” meaning the applicant had either withdrawn it or disappeared.
Finland has registered over 14,000 asylum seekers so far this year, and it expects a total of at least 30,000 by the end of the year — eight times as many as in 2014.
But Repo said cancelations were on the rise, and registrations were taking longer because of the recent influx of migrants.
And the 30,000 expected this year may end up dropping: media reports said some Iraqis were posting self-shot videos of Helsinki on a Facebook page popular among Iraqi migrants to dissuade others from coming.
Around 500 migrants are arriving in Tornio each day, an influx that has stunned the tranquil town of 20,000 inhabitants and put its infrastructure to the test, even though most migrants are just passing through.
“The flow from the border has been out of control. I have been scared and have avoided going shopping in the evenings because we don’t know who these people are,” a 66-year-old pensioner who gave her name as Kirsti, told AFP.
Up to 1,000 migrants are estimated to be in Tornio on a given day, according to police and migration officials.
Some local business owners have accused “the dark men” or “these southerners” of pilferage and harassing women, but others said the crowds hadn’t caused any trouble.
“I haven’t seen any disturbances, but I don’t know why they come here when even our own people leave this town,” Matti Alaviuhkola said at his shoe repair shop on the main street.
On Tuesday, Finnish authorities opened a registration center in Tornio, requiring migrants to register upon arrival before being sent to reception centers around the country.
The Finnish government sent dozens of police, border guards, customs and military to step up alien controls at the border, where locals have crossed freely between Sweden and Finland since the 1960s.
Busloads of migrants arriving from Sweden were driven directly to the new registration center, as canine police units and military guards stood nearby to ensure that no one wandered off.
Finnish authorities have expressed concern about finding housing for all the refugees if the influx continues, despite new facilities opening every week.
Some locals said the influx was putting too much strain on the country in the middle of its own economic woes.
“We should close the border and check who these people are. Iraqis should be sent straight back since their country is not at war,” a metal worker and one of the organizers of the border protest, Eero Yrjanheikki, told AFP.


Afghans brave militant threat to vote in delayed election

Updated 11 min 19 sec ago
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Afghans brave militant threat to vote in delayed election

  • Almost nine million people have registered to vote in the parliamentary election
  • Despite the risks, President Ashraf Ghani urged “every Aghan, young and old, women and men” to exercise their right to vote

KABUL: Afghans are bracing for more deadly violence on Saturday as voting gets under way in the long-delayed legislative election that the Taliban has vowed to attack.
After shambolic preparations, polling centers opened at 7:00 am (0230 GMT) across war-torn Afghanistan, but threats of militant attacks and expectations for industrial-scale fraud are likely to deter many voters.
People queueing outside a polling center in Kabul complained the process was taking too long, apparently due to hiccups with biometric voter verification devices that are being used in the election for the first time.
“I came here early to finish and go home quickly, but we have been waiting for an hour and they have not started yet,” Mustafa, 42, told AFP.
“The queue is getting longer. They have to register our votes quickly — we are afraid a bomber or a blast may hit us.”
Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s equivalent of prime minister, also waited for more than half an hour at a polling center in the Afghan capital as election workers searched for his name on a voter registration list, a live broadcast on Tolo News showed.
Almost nine million people have registered to vote in the parliamentary election, which is more than three years late and only the third since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
In the days leading up to the poll, the Taliban issued several statements urging candidates to withdraw and voters to boycott what the group calls a “malicious American conspiracy.”
The killing of a powerful police chief in a highly secure compound in the southern province of Kandahar on Thursday has eroded confidence in the ability of security forces to protect voting locations.
Voting in Kandahar has been delayed by a week following the attack that killed three people, including General Abdul Raziq.
Despite the risks, President Ashraf Ghani urged “every Aghan, young and old, women and men” to exercise their right to vote, after casting his ballot in Kabul.
Dozens of men and women clutching their identification documents were seen lining up outside voting centers in the Afghan capital, as a heavy security presence blocked many streets.
A woman dressed in a burqa exiting a polling center in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif told AFP she had been worried about “security incidents,” but decided to vote anyway.
“We have to defy the violence,” Hafiza, 57, said. “In previous years we were not happy with the elections, our votes were sold out.”
The Independent Election Commission (IEC), which has been skewered over the chaotic lead-up to the ballot, on Friday urged Afghans to “vote only once” and called on others not to interfere in the process.
“They should observe impartiality in the election so that we have a transparent, impartial and fair election in Afghanistan,” IEC chief Abdul Badi Sayyad told reporters.
Preparations for the vote have been marred by a wave of poll-related violence that has left hundreds dead or wounded.
At least 10 candidates out of more than 2,500 contesting the lower-house election have been killed so far.
The most recent victim was Abdul Jabar Qahraman, who was killed Wednesday by a bomb placed under his sofa in the southern province of Helmand.
Most of the candidates are political novices and include doctors, mullahs and journalists. Those with the deepest pockets are expected to win.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which has spearheaded international efforts to keep Afghan organizers on track, on Friday called on voters to “exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
The poll is seen as a crucial test for next year’s presidential election and an important milestone ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva in November where Afghanistan is under pressure to show progress on “democratic processes.”
But there are concerns the results could be thrown into turmoil if the biometric verification devices are broken, lost or destroyed.
Votes cast without the controversial machines will not be counted, the IEC has said.