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Like brothers: everyday life of Iraqi asylum seekers

Posted 16/11/2018

"For the past few years, my inner circle has included a group of guys who are Iraqi asylum seekers. I have lived with this group in sadness, sorrow and everyday joys. I have been there with them as many negative decisions to asylum applications have come, and been with them at the doctor’s, social worker’s, police and lawyer’s – whenever someone has needed me."
- Eeva-Maria al-Khazaali

For the past few years, my inner circle has included a group of guys who are Iraqi asylum seekers. I have lived with this group in sadness, sorrow and everyday joys. I have been there with them as many negative decisions to asylum applications have come, and been with them at the doctor’s, social worker’s, police and lawyer’s – whenever someone has needed me. Often I have been asked along as a Finnish speaking (and unofficial) interpreter, sometimes help has been needed in copying documents or in acquiring them. At times, there has simply been a need for someone who can listen and care.

 

My first meeting with the group took place at a birthday party. A mutual acquaintance had invited me there. The birthday party was incomparable. Song and dance were blaring. There were so many invited guests in the small apartment that it was impossible to eat and not bump into someone. At the party, there were a lot of asylum seeker support people as well as Finnish friends. That was the best party of my life. I had never felt myself being so welcomed anywhere. I got asked a lot of questions, in English and rudimentary Finnish, about my appearance, education, job and everything. I did my best to try to learn and remember everyone’s name.

 

First thing I noticed when entering the apartment was how crowded it was. A total of ten men lived in the two-room apartment. Most of the beds had been placed touching each other, leaving nobody with any sort of privacy. The asylum seeker youths had chosen private accommodation, because it enabled an increase of 50% to the residence allowance granted to those living in reception centres. This way the asylum seekers were left with money for their own use, on for example playing the lottery with small sums and buying bare essentials in addition to food and flea market clothing. Food has also been received as donations. Happy days are the ones when one gets tens of kilos of beef from a butcher. The meat, homemade bread and rice is enough food for a long time. When going shopping, they go as a large group, with no spending money then left over for personal items. Community economy has its own rules.

 

These people have been like brothers to me for a few years. That is how close they have felt, because I have visited their home several times and I know that I can always ask them to help reciprocally – even if only to change the ceiling light if I don’t know how to do it myself.

 

One of the asylum seekers who received a negative decision used to stand by the window, looking at the snowy landscape, for several hours a day. He was a quiet, but a nice man. One day the police picked him up from the shared home and sent him, via a detention unit, back to his home country, Iraq. Who stays and who leaves almost seems like happenstance: according to the Finnish Immigration Service aka Migri, majority of the stories told by asylum seekers in interviews are credible, but for example violence is seen as random – meaning chances of being a victim are the same no matter who you were back in your country of origin.

 

Stories the men tell bear witness to unspeakable atrocities. I hear how men have seen victims of war dying, witnessed kidnappings or been victims of violence, targeting them or their family. It does not seem random when you’ve found a threatening letter at your front door in your origin country: usually included in the letter are a bullet and a direct kill threat, addressed to the recipient personally. Its sender is one of many terrorist groups, with knowing the groups’ names being essential these days for getting a residence permit here, again according to the Finnish Immigration Service. Migri cannot accept fear of violence as real, if the threat is made by an unknown party.

 

Asylum application and its numerous appeal processes can take several years. For most, weekdays are housekeeping, joint meals, smoking and sitting at home. Days are long, as are the months and eventually the years. Because of their limited language skills, most are unable to find a job and do not know to seek Finnish language studies. For many, the motivation to learn a new language is also low: back home they only received bare essential education, having to start working at an early age. Many tell me they do not want to learn a new language until they have guaranteed information of being allowed to stay here, in my home country. It is heartbreaking to see how much suffering these people have behind their eyes, even if many are silent about the details outside the interview room and lawyer’s presence when talking about the fear of violence, threat and experiences in Iraq.

 

Eeva-Maria el-Khazaali