How it is to be an asylum seeker in Finland

by Jiaxin He (Ellen)

Being a refugee is always harder than most people’s expectation, even after their arrival in a safe and well-developed country. When an asylum seeker, leaving everything he or she had in the war zone, comes to a Scandinavian country which was only seen on the Internet and newspaper before, life gets easier, but also harder in some way.

The number of refugees coming to Finland reached its peak between September and October, 2015, and decreased noticeably in 2016.The government has set up temporary accommodation for them and taken care of the basic needs such as food and clothes, but the integration problem does not fade away as the number drops.

Refugees have plenty of stuff to learn – a new set of legal system and a completely new language which is not even close to English. They have plenty of pressure to face, especially on getting a residence permit. They have plenty of adaptations to make – in a strange place, every single daily thing can be different from what they used to.


Montaser Khalid

Montaser Khalid, 30, is a refugee from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq. He was an accountant in Iraq, working for LG, a South Korean multinational corporation. Like millions of other Iraqis, he fled from Iraq because of the difficult situation caused by the war.

After seeing the information on the Internet and hearing his friends’ description of Finland – how safe the country is, how they respect human rights and how happy, wealthy and modern people’s life is – he decided to leave his home for Finland.

It was a tough and unforgettable way to Finland, one of the northernmost countries, passing through over ten countries including Turkey and Greece day and night, but the situation after arrival does not match Khalid’s expectation.

After staying one year in Turku, a south-western big city of Finland, he has had lots of miserable experiences. He says that on 22 Nov 2016, two days before the interview took place, his neighbour came and yelled at him and his roommates.

“He shouted at us ‘Why do you come to Finland? Get out of the country!’” Khalid says with no emotion on his face.

He does not tell his close friend about it because he feels humiliated.

After several seconds of silence, he continues. “Definitely the majority are good here. I don’t want to judge them all.”

“I feel most of the Finns don’t really welcome us from the heart,” he says. “I can tell from their speech and the way they treat us.”

For Khalid, the life here in Finland is disparate from what he saw on the media, especially the part about human rights.

From what he hears and knows about the situation, he says he has “no hope” for a residence permit. According to the process of applying for asylum, if someone is not granted with a residence permit, he or she will be deported or refused to enter into Finland.

“I was dreaming about human rights before coming to Finland. But when I arrived, there is suddenly nothing here. They don’t even give us the permission to stay here,” he says. “I don’t know where I will be. So I have no plan for the future.”

When asked about the suggestions for the government, he first says that he does not have any. “The government cannot change the whole society.” He does not believe the government can alter everyone’s attitude toward refugees.

He then adds, “But please consider. They (refugees) have nothing.”

“Nothing,” he emphasizes again.



Noori, a 17-year-old asylum seeker arriving in Finland on 8 October 2015, now lives in a minor asylum centre called Harjulinna in Siuntio, a small town located in southern Finland.

He seems to have an ordinary life like any other 17-year-olds, except he is living in a group hose for 28 minor refugees instead of living in his own place with parents. He goes to the school at 9am and comes back at 2.30pm. Then he does his homework and chats with friends and the staff at Harjulinna.

“I am very happy now. The staff here give us lots of love, just like our parents,” he says and then continues with a less bright voice, “But mother’s and father’s love is different.”

Since Noori arrived in Finland, he has not heard anything from his parents.

“I’m 80 percent good and happy here; the 20 percent is I want to stay with my parents. I want to know how is their situation now.” He has not given up this thought yet. “The workers at Red Cross promise me that they will try to find my parents and give them a message that I have safely arrived in Finland.”

Regarding the feeling of going to the basic school there, Noori says the teachers and staff are very friendly and patient. He is in a class where all students are refugees while the class is taught in Finnish. So language sometimes leads to midunderstanding. “Teachers are willing to explain once and once again until we understand. They are very nice,” he says.

But the situation with Finn students is quite different. Noori only says hi to them. However, some of them do not even give back a greeting – they just ignore him.

“We don’t talk with each other. We (refugees) would like to talk with them and have Finn friends. I want to know the culture of youngsters in Finland.”

He says twice during the interview, “I don’t know they don’t talk to us because they don’t like us, or they are just too shy.”


Bahaulddin Rawi

Bahaulddin Rawi, 29, had been a journalist in Iraq since 2009. He came to Finland on 3 September, 2015, and continue writing stories as his avocation. Recently he stopped it because he is mourning the death of his brother back in Iraq.

“I wrote about the corruption of the government and the dark sides like that when I was in Iraq, so the government hates me. (After hearing my brother was killed,) For the moment, I don’t want to sacrifice more,” he says.

Regarding life here in Finland, Rawi is very satisfied and proud of himself. He got his residence permit on 16 September 2016. Only one week after that, he found a job.

“Before me, no one can find a job one week after getting the permission,” Rawi says with a big smile.

For him, a major difficulty after coming to Finland is the culture, which is very different from the Middle East one.

“It is like coming from Moon to the Earth. At first it was really difficult to adapt to the culture here, but now (after a year) it is not that difficult for me,” he says.

“We share every single part of our life with people in Iraq, even the food,” he says. Here, however, he feels that people have an obvious safe distance with each other.

“But we have to go on to live here,” he says.

Once Rawi gave a lecture on political science in Turku University and there was an interesting conversation between him and the students there.

“They asked me ‘What do you miss so much in Iraq?’ I said ‘Iraq itself.’ They asked me ‘What are the things you don’t miss any more in Iraq?’ I said ‘Iraq itself,’” he says.



*For the protection of the boy under 18, no full name is shown in this article.

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