In the courtyard of a nondescript office building in Helsinki’s Uudenmaankatu, a group of refugee women and children play badminton in the late evening sun. This is the soundtrack to their life in Finland: the gentle thwack of a shuttlecock flying back and forth; children giggling as they miss a shot; men talking on the phone or in groups as they share a cigarette on the street.
Mustaq Qassim has been here for just one month. The 40-year old left his job as a car mechanic in al-Rusafa, the half of Baghdad that lies to the east of the River Tigris. He wants to find a better life in Finland.
“So far, in Finland everything works. Good health. No corruption. Life in Iraq was bad health, corruption, militias and other people threatening your life. We came to seek safety in a safe country” he tells News Now Finland through an interpreter.
At first he agrees to have his picture taken, but later, asks for the photos to be deleted. He doesn’t want to cause any problems with Finnish authorities, he says, by talking to journalists.
Mushtaq journeyed out of Iraq, through Turkey. That’s as much as he wants to say about the long route from his homeland to the northernmost part of the EU. There’s a worry among asylum seekers that they might be returned to the first EU country where they set foot, if they admit to where they’ve been.
His first appointment with Finnish immigration officials is in early October. And he’s in good spirits about the outcome.
“I’m hoping the Finnish government will help, I have an optimistic view”
“We went through a lot to get here, and most of us are running away from something. We were facing death along the way and wanted our voices to be heard. It’s very hard for asylum seekers to get a place here”.
Mushtaq says he came to Finland alone. His parents are dead, and he has no siblings or wife. But he doesn’t want to explain the precise reasons he expects to be granted asylum in Finland, other than saying that is between him and Finnish officials. “I have my own reasons, I was under threat”.