Living in shadows

In News by Anna Gustafsson0 Comments

Hiding from officials, living in fear day in day out, unknown future, little options of getting out. Life as an undocumented migrant is not easy in Finland.

Support network in Finnish welfare society is comprehensive, but in order to get help a person has to be able to identify him/herself with documents. In order to get an apartment, take up work or receive healthcare, the papers have to be in order. A person without documents is in a very vulnerable position and easily becomes a victim of abuse of many kind.

There is no single reason a person ends up as an undocumented migrant. Some might be students, whose visas run out during their stay. Others might be from another EU-country and have legal right to be here, but don’t have insurance covering healthcare.

It is difficult to estimate the exact amount of undocumented migrants in Finland. Few years ago the police reported meeting approximately 3 000 people yearly without necessary documents. The number is expected to be on the rise.

Victims vulnerable

During the past few years 37 000 asylum seekers and refugees have arrived in Finland. Last year little bit over half of the applications for permanent residency were rejected. Part of the rejected asylum seekers remain in a limbo, without clear route ahead. They cannot stay, nor go back.

End of last year 4 000 people in Finland were lost from the refugee center system records. Some have undoubtedly carried on their journey to another European country. Some have returned where they once left. But some are living underground in Finland. There are about thousand people waiting to be returned to their respective countries by officials.

Leena-Kaisa Åberg is Executive Director of Victim Support Finland. She started in her current position three years ago, having previously worked with migrant issues for many years. Åberg is increasingly worried about the situation undocumented migrants face when they become victims of crime. Undocumented persons are very prone to abuse, theft, fraud, hate crime, violence or they end up working in inhuman and illegal conditions. Their eagerness to contact police is however extremely low, as they don’t have high level of trust in the institutions.

For an undocumented migrant it is not so simple to report a crime, because there is always the fear of expulsion. The process in court takes a long time, and there is uncertainty not only of the outcome, but also about the person’s status during the process. As victims of crime undocumented migrants don’t receive any special treatment, only victims of human trafficking have a possibility for a temporary residence permit during the court proceedings.

Leena-Kaisa Åberg, Executive director of Victim Support Finland.

Motivation to report low

For undocumented migrants the motivation to report crime might be low. For example, the residence permit of victims of labor exploitation can be linked to the employment relationship. If they start a process against the employer they are in direct danger of losing their job and therefore their only chance of remaining in the country. The employer might be also be a relative, which makes reporting even harder.

In cases of domestic abuse, the victim’s residence permit might be dependent on being married with the partner who has committed violent acts. In that case reporting is difficult, and fear of losing child custody might be imminent.

It is not easy to motivate the victim to report. For example in cases of human trafficking the authentication of the crime is not straightforward. During the process, the classification of the crime might change, for example from human trafficking to extortionate work discrimination, and in consequence the victim’s status deteriorates and there are no grounds for a residence permit.

Leena-Kaisa Åberg from Victim Support Finland.

Executive Director Leena-Kaisa Åberg from Victim Support explains the way things are handled for example in Holland. There undocumented migrants as a victims of crime can report to the police without fear of detention. There is a protecting barrier between the police and immigration officials. In addition, a temporary residence permit could be granted, if the victim is co-operates with the officials in solving the case. During the court process, also shelter and subsistence support should be offered.

Each one of us can help undocumented migrants by keeping eyes open. For example in hospitality or construction businesses one might come across people working in poor conditions, long hours. These cases are best reported to the police immediately.

Undocumented migrants have the right for some forms of help and support. They can be placed in immediate shelter and receive acute healthcare should they need it. The support and advice from Victim Support Finland is also open and free for everyone, regardless of status in Finland.

Editor: Anna Gustafsson

Photo: Minna Manninen

Help for undocumented migrants:


Undocumented migrants can receive free healthcare in five cities. Global Clinic is run by volunteer professional healthcare workers. The location is kept discreet and the personnel are bound by confidentiality obligation.

Contact information:

Helsinki:, call: +358 44 9774547

Turku:, call: +358 46 6251412

Joensuu: call: +358 46 5900186



Legal advice:

The lawyer of the Project for Undocumented Migrants is on call between 2 pm and 4 pm Mondays and Thursdays. Free of charge. Call: +358 45 237 71 04. You can also email to

Support and advice for victims of crime:

Victim Support Finland has open line from Monday to Tuesday from 1 pm to 9 pm and from Wednesday to Friday from 5 pm to 9 pm. Call 116006. The lawyer is on call from Monday to Thursday from 5 pm to 7 pm call 0800 161 177. Advice is free and open to anyone.


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