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Into The Woods

Ihab and Yousef arrived in Finland in September 2015. For few months they lived in Turku in an asylum seeker facility near the city. In January they moved in with Outi, a Finnish woman who offered to host them for some time, while they are waiting for their request of asylum to be answered.

Their trip is similar to the one of the hundreds of thousands of people that, in 2015, have crossed the Aegean sea and half Europe to reach Austria, Germany, Holland, UK, Sweden and Finland.

The difficulties they face far from their country and their culture are similar to the one's of other hundreds of thousands of migrants in Europe.

©Alessandro Rampazzo

2016 Finland.
Birches trees in the Velkua archipelago.
In 2015 in Finland arrived more than 32000 asylum seekers mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan. For many of them the future is still uncertain and they don't know if they could stay in the country or they will be forced to leave.
Ihab and Yousef arrived in Finland in September 2015.

Velkua is the new home of Ihab and Yousef. it’s a quiet and peaceful village of about 200 people, immerse in the Finnish nature. Water and forests are all around. It’s one of those places where people go to “recharge their batteries” after a year of working

Home accommodation is a service provided by private citizens that, organized mainly through social networks, offer some free space in their house to the asylum seekers who desire to leave the state-run centers and have the will to go to live together with a Finnish family.

Velkua archipelago

bay area of Teersalo, in Velkua archipelago

The new home of Ihab and Yousef at Outi's place .

For few months Ihab and Yousef have been living in a refugee accommodation center with tens of other people mostly form Iraq and Afghanistan.
In January 2016 Ihab found out about the home accommodation from Outi, the coordinator of this service in the area.

Ihab 27 arrived in Finland in September 2015. Like thousands of other people he crossed the Greek sea and then walked up all the Balcan route. He spent the last year and a half in Turkey, where he tried to apply for asylum without success. Ihab had to flee Baghdad in 2013 after he was life threatened at the magazine where only few months before he started to work. His family moved to India some time later, and is now applying for asylum there.

Yousef 35 years old is father of 5 kids and uncle of Ihab, he left Baghdad in 2015 just after his nephew managed to find the way to reach Greece.

Yousef (left) an Ihab on the boat that connects island to island in the Velkua archipelago

Ihab and Yousef preparing food at their place

Since their arrival Outi(l) has helped the two men with the integration process. She introduced them to the community writing about their arrival on the community weekly newspaper, so everyone would know about them.

Ihab cooking

Outi(l) has been home accommodating asylum seekers since 2009. Home accommodation is meant to be a more human way to host refugees during their first months in Finland and helping the in getting familiar with their new country.

Yousef (l) coming home from playing volleyball in a close by island, hugs Paavo (r), Outi’s son.

hab talking with Outi at her doorstep

Outi and Yousef (r) in front of home.

Outi is often invited by Yousef and Ihab to dine together at their place.

Living together with Finnish people is meant to help to faster integrate in the society, to better understand the different culture, the costumes and at the same time to build up a new network of people and friends faster than staying in the accommodation centers.

Paavo, Outi's son, is often around Yousef and Ihab home

Yousef, father of 5, playing with Paavo

Ihab and Yousef already knows many people in the village, they also recently organized a Sunday lunch where they cooked Iraqi food for the community.

On Mondays Yousef and Ihab go to play volleyball in the nearby island

Ihab meets with some of his Finnish language course mates. Together with Yousef he also attend language lessons in a nearby village.

Velkua is at about 45 minutes from Turku city center (by car), on the south-west coast of Finland in a beautiful archipelago of islands

Ihab confess me that waiting for an answer about his asylum request is very tough. “you go through the interviews and you don’t know if you have a story bad enough not to be sent back”

“I have my last interview next week and after that I’ll wait for the answer. I really don’t know what to do if I’m not accepted in Finland, I can’t go back to Iraq nor to Turkey, because I left illegally and I’d end up in jail there”

Ihab the day of his last interview

Every asylum seeker has to go through two interviews where they are asked about their story, the reason why they are in the country, and why they can’t go back.

Ihab spent from 10.00 to 16.00 in the MIGRI office. He was meant to have the interview at midday so he would have been able to finish it by four, the end of the working day.

Ihab waiting for his interview to start at the MIGRI office

Ihab is invited to enter after more than 2 hours of delay from the scheduled time. Interview normally lasts for almost four hours

He really hoped that this time would have been his last one because it’s very stressful going through interviews that can change your life. “it’s not like an exam, you don’t have the correct or wrong answer, you have just to hope that your story is bad enough not to be sent back”

Form Velkua there is only on busses per day to reach the city, at 6.40am and one at 4.25pm to come back. Anyway Outi goes to the city almost every because of her work.

Ihab “In 2003, when the war begun, every time I heard the noise of a military jet my eyes were looking around to see where the explosion would have been, only after many seconds I could also hear the explosion, there was the war in Iraq, the Americans bombed Iraq, I remember it”.

Ihab and Yousef spend the majority of the days around home. A tractor with wood cutter tool is loaded on the small boat that connect island to island in Velkua archipelago, Ihab waits to board to go cutting trees in a farm on the next island

A farmer in the next island asked the help of the two men with some field work. Ihab and Yousef (unseen) waits to board and go to work in the early morning

Ihab preparing the typical Iraqi bread. The tastes of the Finnish food is not always appreciated by the two guys that normally cook Iraqi food

Yousef preparing some food. The tastes of the Finnish food is not always appreciated by the two guys that normally cook Iraqi food

Sometime Ihab and Yousef invite friends at their place, here Ihab smoking the water-pipe with Douro(r), another Iraqi asylum seeker at the moment looking for home accommodation

Dauro giving a haircut to Ihab, he used to work as hairdresser in Baghdad

Ihab is used to go few times a week to a nearby farm to buy few liters of fresh milk for home

Ihab, preparing to go fishing

Ihab builded up an artisanal fishing pole and prepared few fishing baits

Ihab was suggested by some local friends to go fishing but he forgot to ask where the fish is more abundant

Ihab preparing a fishing bait

Ihab was suggested by some local friends to go fishing but he forgot to ask where the fish is more abundant. After spending sometime close to home he decided to try elsewhere

Ihab was suggested by some local friends to go fishing but he forgot to ask where the fish is more abundant

Ihab was suggested by some local friends to go fishing but he forgot to ask where the fish is more abundant. Waiting for the fish to bite he decided to lay down on the dock

Ihab was suggested by some local friends to go fishing but he forgot to ask where the fish is more abundant. After a second unlucky location he decided try again on a new place

Ihab talking with his family in India while Paavo plays. His family is almost entirely in India applying for asylum there.
Their fate is still uncertain

Ihab and Yousef call regularly their families, they spend everyday some time speaking through skype or whatsapp.
Yousef left his wife and 5 kids in Baghdad, hoping to be able to bring them to Finland if he will be accepted in the country

Yousef and Ihab aon the dock nearby home in the evening. During next months they are meant to receive an answer about their asylum request