What to do with the paperless people?

By Hanna Apajalahti and Anna Nuutinen (Group 8 )

While Schengen agreement has opened the internal borders of Europe to the free movement, there is a constantly growing pressure that targets the outer borders. Recent turmoil in northern Africa has made it even stronger. Certainly not all who get into Europe get the legal immigrant status. The highly problematic illegal immigration and employment seem to be on the rise.

According to the Commission of the European Union, there are eight million undocumented immigrants in the EU area. In Finland, the police had a special “theme week” of immigration control in April. The Central Bureau of Investigation, Border Guard and the State Provincial Office together checked over 1100 people. Their target was to prevent illegal immigration and its side effects, such as human trafficking. For example, more than a hundred Afghans were smuggled to Finland by a Latvian crime league.

“Only 21 people were found without valid documents, so that tells something about the scale we are talking about”, says Jouko Ikonen, detective chief inspector in the Central Bureau of Investigation. According to Ikonen, there is an estimation of a few hundred unregistered people in Finland, “maximum 3000”. About one third of all illegal immigration cases are detected in the capital region.

When you have nothing to lose, why not to go?

“One day they came again. I happened to be at home and went hiding under the bed. The soldiers took my mother to the court yard and they shot her there.” (Arlindo Antonio)

Reasons of leaving home and going to Europe are as many as there are migrants. Most undocumented immigrants who come to Europe and Finland have their origins in Africa or Asia. Anyway, huge differences in the standards of living are luring especially youngsters, who don’t have much job opportunities back home. Life may be so hard that it is worth taking a risk of sometimes a dangerous trip.

According to OECD, undocumented immigrant is a person who:

  • has arrived in the country with false documents or without documents
  • has arrived legally, but has overstayed his/her visa, and is unemployed
  • has arrived illegally and is staying without permit, and is unemployed
  • has arrived illegally and is unemployed, without right to legally reside, and is practicing criminal activity

Even though these people are officially unemployed, it has been estimated that 70% of them are engaged in illegal labor (Intereconomics 2004). According to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, there are several economic sectors that are heavily dependent on the exploitation of undeclared labor. Especially in agriculture, where there is a big demand on work power, lots of undocumented immigrants are hired.

Other sectors are construction, cleaning, the hotel and catering and tourism. For employers it may be hard to find any natives to do the low-status and low-paid work, which leaves no other choices than to use illegal work force. On the other hand, they are taking advantage from benefits that come along. Low costs, workers willing to do extra hours in harsh conditions and possibility to get rid of them easily are things that improve the business.

“I was cleaning the Amarillo nightclub seven days a week. The boss had promised six euro per hour and a couple of days off per month. There were no days off and the boss sometimes gave me fifty euro. Most of the wages was never paid.  What could I have done? He knew that I was totally dependent on him.” (West Chka)

“The human rights also belong to the undocumented migrants”, writes Anu-Tuija Lehto in Helsingin Sanomat. She is the lawyer of the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions. She argues that illegal work has become a big problem in Europe, and there is a need for actions. Two years ago, European Parliament approved a directive on sanctions for the employers of undocumented workers. The United Nations human rights experts have strongly criticized this, saying that irregular immigrants are not criminals. The directive is also under a process in Finland.

It is estimated that in Finland there is a couple of hundred undocumented workers. Lehto says that paperless workers should have a right to stay in for a certain time, during which they could arrange work or study. Further, if a worker pays his taxes in Finland, should he also get the benefits like social security and health care?

Invisible aliens

Not having the legal status causes many other problems to irregular immigrants, including women and children. When you are practically invisible, you don’t have an access to social services of any kind, most notably to health care. The continual fear of being discovered and expelled is not making their physical or mental health any better.

“On the language class it was rather difficult to concentrate, since I didn’t know when the police would find me.” (Arlindo Antonio)

“It is completely inhumane that a group of people are excluded from all assistance. It is a doctor’s obligation to help people regardless of their status”, says Pekka Tuomola, the founder of a newly opened clinic, in Helsingin Sanomat. At the Global Clinic one can visit without a fear of expelling by authorities. Very basic health services are provided there for undocumented migrants in Helsinki. There have been about three to five patients weekly. The clinic is open once a week for a few hours at a time in a secret location.

Nearly 80 doctors, nurses, midwives and students run it voluntarily. In the future, they hope to offer services of specialists as well. The premises, equipment and medicines are provided by the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, where Tuomola works as a director of substance abuse and mental health services. He hopes that in the future the state would take responsibility of the clinic.

Lasse Lehtonen, Administrative Chief of HUS (Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa), tells that if there is a paperless immigrant in the need of urgent care in a serious case, no questions are asked. “What it comes to payment afterwards, in most cases the final bill is sent to tax payers. But the staff won’t contact the police. They have made the vow of silence.”

Still bubbling under on the other side of Europe

“I don’t know if anybody believes me back home, but I will tell about my experiences. I’m going to say it’s not worth coming here.” (West Chka)

Illegal immigration is a problem that touches all of us. While economy and businesses get advantage of it, there are also drawbacks. The loss of tax revenues and effects of black economy create serious harm. Not to mention the difficulties that irregular immigrants have to face in their daily life. The situation causes tensions between immigrants and locals. Illegal employment also affects the local workers’ ability to raise their salaries.

Beyond strengthening the border control and placing sanctions on employers there is also a third option: legalizing the status of paperless immigrants. For example, Spain took the difficult decision to legalize the situation of 700 000 undocumented immigrants in 2005. In Finland, the situation is still manageable. “We are talking about such a small amount of people. We can take care of the cases individually. Such a solution like in Spain is not current here”, says inspector Jouko Ikonen.

The quotes and the photos above from the book “Paperittomat” (Paperless) by Kaisa Viitanen and Katja Tähjä, published in 2010, by HS Kirjat. Arlindo Antonio is a former child soldier from Angola. West Chka fled from Nigeria due to religious related violence. Both are or were staying in Finland. Photos by Katja Tähjä.


One Response to “What to do with the paperless people?”

  1. peterverweij Says:

    Interesting story. good use of split. some use of multimedia. Interesting quotes of illegals; what is the source? The story misses a clear focus. It takes the reader from schengen to finland and then to the problems of illegals. Would have liked a more EU and or Fin focus. For example on border controls which is the end of the story, esp. burden sharing and common EU standards.

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