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Iraqi journalist victim of new hard line Finnish asylum policy

The Finnish Immigration Service turns down Waleed Al-Gburi’s asylum application despite fears for his safety.

Responding to news of the denial of asylum to Al-Guburi, UJF President Hanne Aho said that his life and that of his eldest son, Aws Al-Gburi, were in danger “due to having worked as an interpreter and camera operator for Japanese media and as a fixer for foreign journalists and organisations.”

Fixers often carry out the most risky parts of the work of journalists in conflict areas.

“For years Waleed Al-Gburi has risked his life so that the world could get independent information on what is really happening in Iraq,” said Hanne Aho. “What would we know of the world without professionals like him! How can we shrug off all that and leave such people to fend for themselves?”

“Waleed Al-Gburi’s asylum application must be reassessed,” said Hanne Aho.

Al-Gburi fled Iraq because his life was in danger and due to persistent threats and intimidation. Returning him and his son to Iraq would put them fresh danger. International law explicitly prohibits the repatriation of people to countries or regions where their lives may be in danger or they may be at risk of persecution or inhumane treatment.

Al-Gburi first started getting death threats in 2006, telling him to stop working with Japanese journalists. As a result he and his family moved from Bagdad to the district of Jisr Diyalaan Mada’in. In 2007 he was kidnapped and tortured. His kidnappers accused him of working for Americans. He had also worked for French journalists as a fixer and interpreter.

The Finnish Immigration Service noted that it “accepts as factual” the threats made to Al-Gburi, and that he was kidnapped and held captive. But in its ruling on Al-Gburi’s application, it found that he will no longer be in any danger in his home country if he stops his profession and moves to a Sunni area of Bagdad.

“The Finnish Immigration Service considers that you can be returned to Iraq without facing persecution there, or serious injury or inhuman or degrading treatment or that you could be sent from there to such an area.”

The UJF points out that the immigration service’s proposal is that Al-Gburi should return to the Bagdad, the place he was forced to leave in 2006. The union also notes that his home was confiscated once word got out locally that he had fled to Finland.

Iraq is the most dangerous country worldwide for journalists to work in. According to the International Federation of Journalists, 309 journalists and media workers – including camera operators, interpreters and fixers – have been killed in the last 25 years. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists reckons that 174 journalists have been murdered in Iraq since 1992.

Most of those killed in Iraq are local journalists, fixers and freelancers. Journalists and other media workers are threatened and assaulted in revenge for work they have done in the past, or to stop them working again, and to intimidate others. There are numerous militias operating in Iraq, and the authorities have neither the ability nor will to protect journalists facing threats and persecution.

Al-Gburi and his eldest son Aws fled Iraq in August 2015 after an attempt was made to kill them. Al-Gburi believes this related to his plans to go on a film trip to Turkey that was to commemorate his Japanese colleague, correspondent Mika Yamamoto, who was killed in Syria in 2012. As a member of the Sunni majority, Al-Gburi has also been persecuted for his faith.

The Finnish Immigration Service took the decision on Al-Gburi’s without any reference to sources on the situation of journalists and other media workers in Iraq. Some sources are listed below: