Caught in the middle between Kosovo’s two communities and Finnish immigration authorities
Almir Burdzevic and family face expulsion from Finland
By Tuomas Kokko
To visit the current home of Almir Burdzevic, a visitor has to relinquish identification to the woman sitting behind a glass partition. Burdzevic lives at a refugee reception centre in the Metsälä district of Helsinki.
The red-brick building located on the edges of an industrial area has been the home of Burdzevic and his family for a long time already. Burdzevic is nevertheless pleased to be here.
"It’s better here than in Kosovo", he says through an interpreter who speaks Bosnian.
Burdzevic and his family have moved to Finland from Kosovo – or they have tried to move here.
In early September Helsinki Administrative Court rejected the appeal that they lodged over a negative decision for a residence permit.
The Finnish Immigration Service considers the family’s applications for asylum and residence permits to be without foundation. In practice this means that the family is to be sent either back to Kosovo, or to Serbia, which is their other home country.
"That decision made me feel like I had lost the foundation for my life. We had thought that we were close to getting a residence permit. It’s hard to describe this in words, because our family has had rough experiences in recent times."
Last year the Immigration Service made a total of 124 decisions concerning asylum-seekers from Kosovo. Only ten of the decisions were positive.
In Mitrovica, where Burdzevic is from, most of the people are either Serbs or Albanians, but he is ethnically Bosnian.
Mitrovica is a city in the north of Bosnia about the size of the Finnish city of Joensuu. Burdzevic says that his ethnic background constantly causes problems for him.
"Both Serbs and Albanians discriminate against us, because we do not belong to either group. For instance, their children will not play with our children. Stones have been thrown into our garden when our children have been outside", Burdzevic says.
"There is no war there, but war is not the only reason to seek asylum. Conditions in Kosovo are quite different from what the media reports. If I go into a shop patronised by Serbs, I am told to go to the Albanians’ shop. There they tell me to go to the Serbian side."
Burdzevic is from the former Yugoslavia. The wars that were fought in the 1990s led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the birth of new states.
Kosovo became independent of Serbia in 2008, but Serbia has not yet recognised Kosovo’s independence. Burdzevic and his family have been trying hard to get out of Kosovo.
They arrived in Finland for the first time in the autumn of 2010. They asked for "international protection", but in the same autumn, the Immigration Service concluded that the application was without foundation. The Administrative Court rejected the appeal made over the family’s decision.
The family was deported from Finland in the autumn of 2011, but just over a month later they came back. Burdzevic felt that he could not live in his country of origin.
"My eldest daughter went to town in the middle of the day, when a group of men tried to force her into a car. She was crying when she got home and said that she does not want to live in a place like that.
Now Burdzevic is working as a stage hand at the Finnish National Theatre. However, his job does not automatically entitle his family to a residence permit, because he does not earn enough. His earnings do not reach the minimum income threshold for immigration.
Although the future of the family is uncertain, one of the children has already started school in Helsinki.
"This is having a very great effect on our children. Our eldest son has started school, but he has nightmares and cannot concentrate. He has asked why he should go to school at all, since he does not know what will happen in his life. Our children ask very difficult questions about all of this", Burdzevic says.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 9.10.2012
TUOMAS KOKKO / Helsingin Sanomat