Firas Jalil is a 42 year old car mechanic from Baghdad. He arrived in Finland in 2015 escaping from Iraq's Shia militias that, as he claims, first tried to force him to collaborate with their activities, and as he refused, they tried to assassinate him.
So that no one doubts the story, Firas takes off his sweater and raises his shirt to show the scars of bullets that pierced his body.
On that basis, Finland guaranteed him asylum in 2017. Then, another struggle began for him to get also his first wife and 4 children out of Iraq. The process took him more than two years because -he claims- nobody explained him that there was a legal deadline of 3 months to request asylum for his family, despite he had told the police and the civil servants that he wanted to apply for asylum for them too.
When he finally got the permission a couple of weeks ago, it was too late for one of his kids. According to his explanation, his 3-year-old daughter Fatima was kidnapped and murdered by Shia militias, as a revenge on him. Now, he has just got the permission of the authorities to bring the three survivors.
Firas, who currently works in a car workshop in Helsinki, waves his hands of mechanic, still stained with grease, while he complains that if the authorities had explained him in advanced all he needed to know about the process, his little daughter perhaps might be still alive.
Now he looks forward to the day of his children's arrival. But the fear of revenge by the Shia militias is still present, since he says some of its members are in Finland. That is why he agrees to tell us his story, but he asks us not show his face in this interview.
QUESTION.- How was your life in Iraq before coming here?
ANSWER.- I am an electronic car mechanic, I had my own workshop in Irak. After the fall of the old regime in 2005, I had a contract with the office of the prime minister to fix their cars. That allowed me to meet with some very important public figures from the Government and with rich business men. The militias got interested in me because of my access to these people.
Q.- What did they want from you?
A.- They wanted me to inform them right away every time some important figure came to my place to fix the car. This has been common in Irak since the fall and still happens: if I informed, some of them would had been killed. And if they were rich business men, it is a very lucrative business to kidnap them and ask for a ransom. Usually, those end up killed too. They even offered me a share.
Firas Jalil, during the interview. Photo: Foreigner.fi.
Q.- Did you ever collaborate with them?
A.- No, I refused to cooperate. I am totally against these actions, this is totally wrong even from a religious point of view. And I did not need the money, I was doing well and I had from 7 to 9 employees in my garage.
Q.- What happened when you refused?
A.- I received many threats, until they tried to murder me. In July 2014 I was shot in front of my garage, on my shoulder and on the side (he shows the scars). In total, 34 shots were fired against my car. One of the bullets went near the kidney and it took 3 months to remove it. When I returned home they found the place where I lived and they sent me a message: "You survived this, when you feel better and can work again you should listen to us and do what we want you to do".
Q.- How did you face this threat?
A.- Of course, right after the murder attempt I was thinking that when I get better I will definitely leave Irak with my family and children. So, I closed down my business because the staff were also in danger. But then, on December 23rd, 2014 they raided my house and kidnapped me. They put me in a jail, and as you know those militias are all governmental forces and work with the Government. They raised false accusations against me under the terrorism act. While I was in custody they beat and tortured me, also with electricity. So, later I decided to pretend to agree to collaborate with them and to pay them 40,000 US dollars to be released and to get rid of the false legal case built against me.
They put me in a jail, they beat and tortured me, also with electricity
Q.- Why would governmental forces want to use you to attack Government members?
A.- The ones that wanted me to collaborate were Shia and they wanted to use me to get to the Sunnis, even though they are within the same Government. For instance, one of the things they wanted me to do was to leave a bag inside of a particular car. They would not explain what was inside, but in Irak even kids know that there might be explosives, or drugs in order to falsify a case against the owner of the car.
Q.- So, which concrete fraction wanted to use you for that?
A.- Those who wanted me were mainly from Asaib Ahl Al-haq militia. Those are opposed to other militias, Al Mahdi army, and Badr. It is not always just Shia against Sunni groups. It can be also sometimes a Shia militia against another Shia militia.
The arrival in Finland
Q.- When did you leave the country?
A.- I was released on July 27th, 2015, after seven months in their jails. I consulted my second wife and she decided to escape with me. We got visas to Turkey and on August 15th we run away without any luggage. I left behind my first wife, the four kids I had with her and my mother.
One of the scars left by the shots. Photo: Foreigner.fi.
Q.- Why did you come to Finland later?
A.- Some of my friends suggested me to come here, as Finland is known for promoting human rights and granting asylum to refugees. We arrived one month after, around 19th or 20th September 2015, and applied for asylum.
Q.- What was your first impression in Finland?
A.- Safety and security was the first thing that hit me. I had seen death in front of my eyes, so I felt I was born again, given a second chance.
Q.- How was your life at the reception center?
A.- It was easy, except for the fact that I was physically and emotionally exhausted. Back in Irak, humanitarian values are things that we just hear of, but in Finland we experienced it. The people we met, the staff of the reception center were dripping of humanity.
Q.- Did you have problems with anybody?
A.- In one reception center there was a problem with a person who worked there who was a bit racist, but I do not want to generalize. In general, the treatment was good.
Q.- What happened in the meantime to your family in Irak?
A.- Since the first time I went to the police station to apply for asylum, I mentioned that I wanted my children and wife to join me. In all the interviews with Migri, I also mentioned I wanted my children and my wife here, they were my main concern. I was in touch with them.
None ever told me about this three months rule, even though I had been expressing my intentions to bring my family since the very first day I came here
Q.- How did Finnish authorities reacted when you said you wanted to bring your second wife?
A.- It was a concern for them. They asked me many times whether I was divorced or not. I said no, she is still my wife and in Irak polygamy is legal. They told me that in Finland there cannot be two wives. After my daughter was kidnapped (and later murdered), my first wife did not want to come to Finland anymore and she dropped her application.
Struggling to bring the children
Q.- When did you get your residence permit?
A.- I received the residence permit on February 7th, 2017. At that time I was in Kotka at the reception center. After I got it, I moved to Helsinki and I decided to prepare the family reunification application for my wife and four kids. At that time I did not know about this three months rule, none had ever told me, even though I had been expressing my intentions to bring my family since the first day I came here. I was never informed by Migri or by the social services in the reception center. At that time my 3 years old daughter Fatima was kidnapped and my family in Irak did not tell me.
Q.- But, why didn´t you go forward with the application immediately?
A.- Because I needed a few documents and they had to be translated and legalized. But it was then when I felt that my family in Irak were hiding something that later turned out to be the kidnapping of my daughter. And as I said, I did not know about the three months rule at all.
About this, I would like to add that when someone is granted international protection, logically his family members in his home country are not living an easy life. They are always hiding, and even when it is possible for them to travel, that does not happen immediately. So, this condition of the three months does not make much sense.
Another bullet scar, in the back side of Firas' body. Photo: Foreigner.fi
Q.- How did you learn about that rule?
A.- It was on May 3rd, 2017. A friend of mine who had made also a family reunification application told me. After the 3 months of course, I could still apply for family reunification, but under more conditions. For example, they required me to have sufficient income. And for one wife and 4 kids that is several thousands of euros per month.
The day after I knew about that, on May 4th, 2017, I called to VFS Global in Ankara (Turkey), the entity that cooperates with the Finnish Embassy and where visas are arranged. I sent them the documents and they gave my family an appointment for June, but later I knew of the kidnapping of Fatima.
Fatima kidnapped and killed
Q.- How did that happen?
A.- According to the Iraqi police report, she was kidnapped on 10th or 15th of March 2017. During that time, I was working on the application and asking for more documents. Her mother did not tell me, so I did not know she had been kidnapped until April. Later, the appointment we had in Ankara was postponed four times. Then, her mother did not want to come anymore and the social workers suggested me to make another application for the three other kids.
Q.- Who kidnapped Fatima and how? What did they want?
A.- It is still unclear who exactly was. For sure, they were militias. I think it was the same people that kidnapped me. She was inside of the car that picked up the children from the kinder garden, right in front of it. Another car came, stopped in the nearby and somebody took only her. My family tried to negotiate with the kidnappers and even offered 17,000 US dollars to get back the girl, but they refused. They said they wanted me back in order to free her.
Q.- Why didn't you go to Irak and try to save your daughter?
A.- I wanted, and I decided to go back for the sake of my daughter. But my second wife here in Finland took my passport and she hid it. Then, even when I knew Fatima was killed I wanted to go because I knew it would not stop there. I lost one kid and I could lose the other three. So, I wanted to go back but my wife hid my passport and did not let me go.
In October 2017, the police found a body of a girl. It was difficult to recognize her because she had been death for a while, but she was Fatima
Q.- To some people, this may sound as an excuse.
A.- She did that, she hid my passport by giving it to other people. She did not want me to go because I was her only support, and perhaps also for jealously. She apologized for that and now she seems to be happy that my other kids are coming.
Q.- How did you know Fatima was killed?
A.- In October 2017, the police found a body of a girl. It was difficult to recognize her because she had been death for a while. But according to the description and the clothes she was wearing, she was Fatima. My family called me a few days after to tell me. After that, my wife in Irak lost all interest in coming here. Then, some day I got a call from Irak to my Finnish number and someone told me: "As you can see, we have your phone number and we know where you are, we also have people in Finland that can reach you". This was not about money, they wanted me.
Q.- How did you feel after losing Fatima?
A.- (Looks down) I felt I wanted to go back, though it was not safe for me. And I thought that my daughter was kidnapped in March 15th and I had got the residence permit on February 7th. If I had know in advance that I did not have much time to apply for the residence permit I would had done it right away. And if I had done it right away, probably Fatima was never kidnapped.
Firas Jalil, at another moment of the interview. Photo: Foreigner.fi.
Q.- So, are you suggesting the Finnish authorities influenced the outcome?
A.- Yes, it was a mistake by the social services. When I knew about the three months rule I contacted a lawyer and he applied from the court to postpone the deadline. We tried to get an statement in this sense from the reception center, admitting that they had not informed me, but they did not want to write it. So, the court did not allow to change the deadline.
Q.- What happened to your other wife, the mother of the kids?
A.- Then we made an application for the other three kids -Ahmed (11), Banin (9) and Abdallah (5)- but not for Seenaa, the mother. She did not want to come because she wanted to know what happened to her daughter. She dropped her application. But then Seenaa was also kidnapped in February 2018. She went out to buy some grocery and never came back, and until this day we do not know where she is. After that, my other three kids were living with my mother.
In Finland there are ex members of militias, or even actual members, and the authorities are aware of them
Q.- What happened after?
A.- We continued with the application with the help of my lawyer. In October 2018 they gave me an appointment for an interview here in Finland. It lasted more than three hours, but I still was called to a second interview in November. After that, Migri wanted my mother and my elder son to go for an interview in Turkey. We could not refuse that, so my mother and three children traveled with a friend of mine to Turkey. On February 4th, 2019, my 11 years old son, Ahmed, was interviewed for about three hours. On that day I went there too.
Q.- Were you interviewed in Turkey too?
A.- No, just in Finland.
Q.- What happened after your child's interview?
A.- They left back to Irak and on February 8th I was back in Finland.
Q.- When did you get Migri's decision?
A.- On May 21st, 2019.
Q.- So, when are your three children coming?
A.- According to Migri, it may take up to 3 weeks to send the residence permits to Turkey to VFS or to the Finnish Embassy. My kids do not know yet that they are coming.
Q.- Are you afraid for them here?
A.- Not so much, because in Finland the law can protect you. But even though, I still have some concerns and fears about me.
Q.- Is it true that the militias are here?
Q.- How can you say that?
A.- I know for sure that Finland there are members of the militias, both Shia and Sunni, and even some which ideologically support ISIS. I was in a reception center in Ittala,and there I saw some of those people. I heard them talk and sometimes when they were drunk they started to talk about what they had done in Irak before, when they were members of the militias, they were proud of their crimes. Ex members of militias in Finland, or even actual members, yes there are. But they may not be able to do much because the authorities are aware of them.
Q.- If you could, would you ever go back to Irak?
A.- I wish I can some day. No one leaves his country unless he has a big reason. If the reasons that got me out ceased to exist, I would go back.