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A recent report that Finnish officials planned to deport an Afghan family to Kabul has ignited debate about the ethics of returning asylum seekers to potential conflict areas. Yle (Finnish Media) delved into its archives to dust off decades-old deportation cases involving conscientious objectors facing persecution and forcibly-drugged family members.

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In early April, demonstrators gathered at Helsinki-Vantaa airport, the Pasila police station and downtown Helsinki to protest the deportation of rejected asylum seekers back to the Afghan capital Kabul. The protests were ignited by rumours that an Afghan family had been on the manifest of the deportation flight.

Police later confirmed that while the family had been detained for repatriation, they were later released when it emerged that their asylum appeals were still being processed.

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The protests turned on concerns that people fleeing violence were being returned to conflict zones. Last year Finland changed its guidance for assessing asylum applications from Somali, Iraqi and Afghan nationals, making it easier to reject asylum claims and therefore deport people back to those countries. However opponents point out that these countries are still considered unsafe for visitors.

Controversial deportation decisions are not a new phenomenon. Yle's Finnish-language news travelled back in time to relive deportation dramas that played out in 1990 and 2002.

Finland’s history of forced returns: Deporting conscientious objectors and a sedated family

Finland drugs and deports Ukrainian family

In 2001 a Ukrainian family, the Shimanskyis, sought asylum in Finland, but was refused. The family appealed the decision, but that was also turned down.

Officials first attempted to deport the family in August 2002, but failed because family members put up a fierce resistance to the deportation effort. Police renewed their efforts in October, this time using more forceful methods.

Police drugged the entire family – mother, father and two children aged 11 and 12 – with a sedative. The substance was injected by a nurse assisting police in the operation. According to the family, they were not informed of what substance was administered, in spite of their queries. Under the effects of the sedation, the family was transported from an asylum seeker reception centre in Oravainen to Katajanokka in Helsinki, before being flown to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

The case was kept under wraps until a delegation from the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee visited Finland in September 2003. At the time the then-director of the Katajanokka detention unit let it slip that asylum seekers had been sedated. The committee condemned Finland’s actions in a report that it submitted later on, setting off a heated national debate.

Police commissioner Jaakko Heinilä addressed the controversy in an Yle A-talk programme in 2003 and MPs demanded an explanation. A report revealed that the Shimanskyis were not an isolated forced-drugging case. It later emerged that Finland had opted to sedate other individuals due for deportation in previous years.

Original Article

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