“I was helped and that’s why I now want to help others”
Yasin managed to live, work and study in Finland for seven years before he received his residence permit. For most of that time he lived as an undocumented immigrant. Today, he volunteers at the Deaconess Foundation’s Al Amal Day Centre, which was an important support centre for him during his years without official documentation.
When Yasin came to Finland in 2015, he had one dream: he wanted to study, find a job and become part of Finnish society. Or, actually, there was an even bigger dream behind it.
“I wanted to live in a country where it is safe, peaceful and equal. In my country, Somalia, after the civil war, there was none of this, and there were threats to my life because I was a government employee.”
After arriving in Finland, Yasin became determined to work towards his dream. He applied for asylum and started studying Finnish two weeks after his arrival. In the autumn of 2016, he started to take basic education courses at the Karkku Evangelical Folk High School in the Tampere region of Finland.
In November 2016, Yasin received a summons to the Pori police station. His asylum application had been rejected.
“I was luckily surrounded by good people who helped me and explained what would happen next and what I should do. I didn’t want to think too much about the negative decision, but focused on the things I wanted to do: learn the language, get to know Finnish culture and people,” he recalls.
Undocumented since 2017
Yasin appealed the decision to the Administrative Court and tried to carry on with his life as before. He studied and worked in a restaurant as a washing dishes.
“I was a kitchen assistant in the morning and a student in the afternoon. I wanted to get a full-time job during the school summer holidays, but it was difficult to find a job in the Satakunta region where I lived. In autumn 2017, I moved to Helsinki, where there are more jobs and support networks.”
Then in 2017, Yasin also became an undocumented person.
“Officially, an asylum seeker becomes undocumented when reception services end. In most cases, they stop following a negative decision by an administrative court, even though the person is still in the country and has the possibility to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court,” explains Anne Hammad, Project Manager at Al Amal, a day centre for undocumented people run by the Deaconess Foundation.
Expensive right to work review
When a person becomes undocumented, they also become unprotected and vulnerable to exploitation on the labour market.
To enable a person who has previously applied for asylum to continue working legally, in a secure employment relationship, they can apply to the Finnish Immigration Service for a right to work review. To obtain a right to work permit, they must first pay €50 to the Immigration Service.
“This is a lot of money for an undocumented person who, for example in Helsinki, receives a total of around €300 per month in the form of various service vouchers and cash,” says Hammad.
“And the right to work review is only valid for one calendar year at a time. So if I applied for a review in November and received a decision in December, I would have to apply again in January and pay €50 again,” adds Yasin.
Long waits make you ill
Yasin graduated from primary school in 2018 and went on to Omnia to study for a degree in business administration. Although the school changed, the rhythm of life was familiar: work in the morning to the restaurant, then to school.
Al Amal became an important base for Yasin in Helsinki.
“I remember well when I first went to Al Amal and Anne and the others welcomed me warmly. It felt great that there is an office here for us undocumented people.”
At Al Amal, Anne Hammad and her colleagues help, advise and support undocumented people in everything starting with interpreting documents.
The day centre also explains the full spectrum of issues and the whole picture concerning undocumented people and of all the challenges they face.
“The biggest challenge today,” says Hammad, “is that these situations have gone on for so long. In 2015-2016 we had a lot of asylum seekers coming to our country, and we at the Deaconess Foundation know that there are also undocumented people in Finland who have been here for over 10 years. The anxiety due to waiting too long has now started to show itself for the first time in the form of widespread and frequent mental health problems.”
The climate of confrontation is a problem
Another major problem is the climate of confrontation and heated debate in society.
“When people are labelled ‘illegal’ because of their presence in the country, it is all too easy to conclude that they are criminals, though the majority of undocumented people have no criminal background whatsoever,” says Hammad.
“And denying people the right to live here does not make the issue of undocumented people disappear. Instead, confrontation, segregation, ill health and unreported employment increase when people are pushed out of society.”
Dreaming of a job in the social sector and family reunification
Yasin’s undocumented status finally came to an end in spring 2022, when he was granted a residence permit after spending seven years in the country. In this time he has been both studying and working constantly.
“On 18 February 2022, I graduated as an economist, and exactly one month later I received my residence permit,” Yasin says happily.
He filed asylum applications in 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2020, and in 2022 he received a work permit.
“People often ask me how I managed these seven years. I managed because I had hope and good people around me. For example, I have received a lot of help from Al Amal. And because I have been helped, I now want to help others.”
The desire to help prompted him to pursue one more degree: in social work at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, in Helsinki, and plans to pursue a career in this field after he graduates.
In addition to his gigs doing restaurant work, Yasin is a volunteer at Al Amal and, when necessary, an experience worker at the Deaconess Foundation. Helping undocumented people comes naturally to him, as he knows first-hand the world in which they exist.
“I now have a good life in Finland, and I have achieved it one step at a time with the support of others. The only big step left is to get my wife and children to come and live with me.”
Teksti Anu Räsänen
Kuvat Samuli Skantsi
Translation Mark Waller