Finland split over plans to deport 82-year-old Russian woman
Irina Antonova is 82 years old, and is so frail that she needs to stay with her daughter Natalya. She struggles to draw breath, is nearly immobile and has a pacemaker.
Nevertheless, the Finnish authorities are refusing to grant her a residence permit and want to send her back to Russia – and they say she has only got a week left.
“The immigration police came and asked for Irina. They did not really snatch her away, but they made it quite clear that they want her,” said Irina Antonova’s daughter, Natalya Kiarik
Too ill to survive living on her own in Russia, Irina went to Finland two years ago on a tourist visa.
But when it ran out, Finnish authorities asked her to leave.
Her daughter applied for Irina to stay but officials rejected the application, saying in Finnish law a mother isn't considered a close relative for immigration purposes.
“She has asthma, she can't walk and there is no one to take care of her at home in Russia, but they do not think that is a good enough reason,” says Irina’s son-in-law Ari Kiarik.
The Kiarik couple has tried to appeal many times but say the immigration service refuses to take their views into account.
Irina’s son-in-law Ari has served as a UN peacekeeper for years. As a result of the issue, he has resigned from the Finnish military.
“In protest that the mother of my wife is being mistreated I gave up my military rank. If I am unable to protect my own mother-in-law, how can I protect my country?” Ari Kiarik said.
Russian authorities in the Leningrad region across the border have said they would house and take care of Irina if she were sent back.
Meanwhile, on a recent visit to Finland, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he hoped the situation could be resolved with compassion.
“In general, this is a practical question for any country, and Finland is no exception. And yet there are some problems that are humanitarian in character,” said Putin.
And it is the humanitarian concerns that are foremost in the mind of Irina's daughter.
Apart from being alone in Russia, doctors have raised concerns that the 82-year-old probably would not even survive the deportation.
“At the end of his report the doctor says that he thinks it is a shame for Finland to make such a negative decision in regard to such an old and weak person,” Natalya Kiarik said.
As far as Irina herself is concerned, she knows where she wants to be:
“I feel good with my daughter. She has spent so much money and energy in vain, because laws in Finland say a mother is not a close relative!”
Finnish authorities have so far refused to comment on the case, but it is believed they have already made preparations to deport her.
If taken away from her daughter, Irina fears she may have lost her best chance to live out her last days with the ones she loves.