‘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.


Dutch arrest suspected Syrian militant commander: prosecutor

Updated 21 May 2019
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Dutch arrest suspected Syrian militant commander: prosecutor

THE HAGUE: Dutch police on Tuesday arrested a Syrian asylum seeker suspected of committing war crimes as a commander of the Al-Nusra Front militant group, prosecutors said.
The 47-year-old man, identified only by his nom de guerre Abu Khuder, was detained in Kapelle in the southwestern Netherlands, the Dutch federal prosecutor said.
“The man is accused of participating in the armed struggle as a commander or a terrorist Jabhat Al-Nusra battalion,” the prosecutor said in a statement, using another name for the Al-Nusra front.
It said he was held “on suspicion of committing war crimes and terrorist crimes in Syria,” adding that he had fought in a battalion known as Ghuraba’a Mohassan (Strangers of Mohassan).
The arrested Syrian has lived in the Netherlands since 2014 and was granted a temporary asylum permit, the statement said.
Police searched the suspect’s house and recovered documents, a computer and a smartphone, it said, adding that he was due to appear in court on Friday.
He was arrested based on information provided by German police, where six homes belonging to suspected members of the same battalion were raided, it added.
German police “provided witness testimonies against the suspect,” the Dutch prosecutor said.
The Al-Nusra Front was allied to Al-Qaeda but renounced ties to the group. Under a new name, it now dominates the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which holds administrative control of the Syrian city of Idlib.
The arrest of the Syrian comes as the Netherlands grapples with the problem of what to do with home-grown radicals who went to fight in Syria.
At least 315 people left the Netherlands since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 to join militant groups, according to Dutch media reports quoting official figures.
Around 85 have been killed in the fighting and 55 have returned.
The issue was highlighted in March when the Dutch husband of a British-born teenager who fled to join Daesh said he wanted her to live with him in the Netherlands along with their child.