A Helsinki Sunny Morning

Karstein Volle visited Helsinki Railway station last weekend. Against a backdrop of demonstrations and growing tension, he chatted to Afghan refugee Ghulam about his uncertain future in Finland.

Karstein Volle visited Helsinki Railway station last weekend. Against a backdrop of demonstrations and growing tension, he chatted to Afghan refugee Ghulam about his uncertain future in Finland.

Karstein Volle

It´s been an interesting week.

Thursday

My ex comes to pick up the kids. They are ill and I have looked after them at home.
-Did you hear about what happened at the Railway station?
-Yeah, a refugee tried to hang himself.
-I’m thinking about going there.
-Be careful, there’s a nazi group who says they are coming to clean out the refugee demonstration. Nazis coming from Poland. They have said they will bring a trash container for the refugees’ camp and belongings. They have told people to wear balaclavas.
-I’ll be careful, no worries.

Friday

I come down with my kids flu. Decide to stay in and work on other things. Hopefully it’s a small one. I read up on Wednesday’s incident. HBL reports that the refugee who tried to hang himself was surrounded by people filming him and cheering him on. He had gotten his third refusal and was just thrown out of the refugee centre.

Online it sparked an explosion of people complaining that the suicide attempt failed.
Several news sites removed their comments field to avoid hate rhetoric on their web pages.
The promised extreme right wing event is called Cleansing (Puhdistus) and states that if the refugee demonstration is not cleaned out by Friday, they will come and clean it out themselves.

The police promise to have sufficient personnel. A nazi demonstration in the same place last autumn resulted in the death of a young man at the hands of Suomen Vastarintaliike.
I speak to my girlfriend. She thinks the threat against the camp is exaggerated. They haven’t found a real organiser for the right wing extremist event. I tell her I’m going there tomorrow and she asks me to be careful. I say there’s nothing to worry about.

Saturday

The flu has gotten worse, but it is manageable. I feel I should go down and talk to people, even if I’m coughing a bit. Maybe the nazis succeed and there’s no camp there when I get well.
The refugee demonstration has been at the Railway Station since early February. They are mostly refugees who have had their asylum application rejected. They are demonstrating against the Finnish immigration authority who are deporting people at a fast pace.
At the other side of the Railway station square there’s a counter demonstration organized by the nationalist group Suomi Ensin (Finland First).

Unbeknownst to me, the police has warned people against coming to the Railway station. There will be multiple demonstrations starting at 15:00. On my way to the demo I start thinking how I would stand up to the intense scrutiny the refugees are facing. I moved here to study, then I fell in love with a girl. If I’d been Iraqi, people would wonder if our relationship was real. How do you define that? Camera in the bedroom?

Did I come to Finland to better my own situation? Absolutely. That was the whole point. Of course, my issues were trivial compared to the issues refugees have faced. Still, no one questions my freedom of movement.
It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and schläger music is filling the air. The music comes from the skating rink situated at the center of the square. Families are idyllically skating in the middle, separating the refugees and the Suomi Ensin camps. It’s a surreal sight, considering the tensions triggered by the things happening on this square. There’s one Black Mary (police van) with two policemen next to it.

Did I come to Finland to better my own situation? Absolutely. That was the whole point. Of course, my issues were trivial compared to the issues refugees have faced. Still, no one questions my freedom of movement.

In the refugee demonstration camp there are about 20-30 people milling about. I approach a man in a yellow vest and ask if he has time to talk to me. He agrees.

What’s your name?
My name is Ghulam Hazrut.

Where are you from?
I am from Herat, Afghanistan.

Why did you come to Finland?
I ran away from the war and terrorists. I ran away from the deaths. I couldn’t live in Afghanistan.

So, everybody here got their application for asylum rejected?
Yes, Most of the people got their application rejected from the immigration service, then after a second or third negative verdict, they got kicked out of the camps. Another problem for us is deportation. If the refugees are returned to their country, it’s too dangerous for them. People are afraid to go back.

Have you heard about the rightwing extremists coming here today?
Yes.

Are you worried?
We’re worried, but it is important that the police support us and the Finnish people support us. We have no problem with the other group (Suomi Ensin), they have a problem with us. In Finland and in the EU everyone has the right to demonstrate. They have the right to have another idea. But we are looking for a safe place. We need a safe place.

Do you understand the people threatening you here in finland?
Yes.

Why?
Every country has people like them. They are human like us. We are also human like them. We are not different, we are all human – this is important.

We are not different, we are all human – this is important.

What happened on Wednesday?
One of the Afghani asylum seekers was kicked out of the refugee camp, he was really upset about going back, he was really afraid.
He can not stay in Finland, he has no place to stay. He’s looking for a safe place to stay.
He was very upset and decided to hang himself. Because he has nowhere to live.

Is someone taking care of him? Is he ok?
He is really sick now. He has too much depression, he’s afraid, he is in shock now. Thanks to the Finnish people who helped him and other refugees, he is alive. He is alive now and that is important for us, but I’m really worried for him, because he is really sick.

What will happen? Where will all this be in a couple of weeks? What do you hope will happen?
I hope we will stay here, the government request is just deportation.
I hope they stop kicking refugees out of the camps. I hope things will be better, because we need a safe place.
(Ghulam offers me a coffee. Asks me if I’d like milk or sugar)
The refugees worry about the future, what will happen to them. They run away from dangerous countries, looking for a safe place. Survival is our right. Just like anyone else. What should we do?
The Finnish government knows everything about our countries. They know Iraq and Afghanistan are dangerous places. There are many terrorist groups fighting. They know everything, I don’t know why the Finnish government’s eyes are closed.

What was your job before you ran away?
I was a farmer and businessman. I had a good job, a good salary. I had no problem with work or money. I ran away from the war. I needed to live with my family in a safe place. We need peace. We didn’t come to Finland for money.
I know there are human rights in Finland. Human rights are very important for Finnish people. I’m just here for a safe place. As a basic human right.

Was it hard to come here?
I came in October 2015. I came from Afghanistan to Iran, from Iran through Turkey, from Turkey to Greece. It was really dangerous. I saw many people die.

Were you on the boats?
I came from the Black Sea. From Turkey to Greece. In our boat there were 55 people. It was really dangerous. Ninety nine percent went to their deaths.
It was very hard in the mountains between Afghanistan and Iran. It took 18 hours to walk the mountains between Iran and Turkey. I nearly died. Many refugees came that way.
I had a bad experience.
Now I am in Finland and I worry about my future, what will happen. I worry about my family. I need my family.

In our boat there were 55 people. It was really dangerous. Ninety nine percent went to their deaths.

Where is your family?
My family came with me from Afghanistan to Iran. They stayed in Iran because my wife was sick and the doctor didn’t let her come with me.

Thank you so much for your time, Ghulam. I hope everything works out for you. Thanks for the coffee.

I chat a little bit more with Ghulam. I feel embarrassed there’s so little I can do for him. I learn that he’s 36, six years younger than me. I have all the time through the interview assumed he was a bit older than me.

I leave the camp, because my cough is starting to get out of hand. I pass the Suomi Ensin camp. One girl is wearing a Soldier’s of Odin jacket.

It strikes me how short everyone is. Like little angry elves.
On the back of their tent it says “Jihadists Out”
I just spoke to a guy fleeing jihadists.

When I type up the interview with Ghulam, I notice the contrast between the friendly atmosphere and the severity of his words. I was given warm coffee and little children were skating on the ice rink nearby. But the reality he described was of someone who’s been in mortal danger for years and is still not safe.

In the evening, I check the news. It is revealed that the Cleansing-campaign was from rival extreme rightwing group Rajat Kiinni (Close the Borders). The right wing demonstration gathers less than 30 people. The arrangers show up drunk, seem to have no planned speech and start instead to berate their little audience.

On the other side, in the refugee camp, a support concert is held under the banner ‘Right to Live’. Hundreds attend and according to reports, a splendid time was had by everyone.

 

Article was written by

  • new_karstein

    Graduated as a painter from the National Academy of Arts, Oslo 1999. Has since worked as an illustrator, comic artist, teacher and musician. Has released books, rec...

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