The Gatayevs in Helsinki. (Photo: Vladimir Telegin.)The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) has granted asylum to the Chechen couple, Malik Gatayev and Khadizhat Gatayeva, and three of their children. The couple fled from persecution in Chechnya and Lithuania, and applied for asylum in Finland in September 2009. The Gatayevs ran orphanages for Chechen children in the Chechen capital, Grozny, and in Lithuania’s second-largest city, Kaunas. Migri initially rejected the Gatayevs’ asylum application in March 2010, and the couple was detained pending deportation. However, the Helsinki Administrative Court ruled in May 2010 that Lithuania was not a safe country of return. In March 2012, Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld the lower court ruling, obliging Migri to reconsider the case. Finally, on 19 April 2012, Migri granted the family asylum. “This puts an end to the family’s torment,” Oksana Chelysheva, board member of the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM), said. “The family’s priority now was to recuperate after three years of uncertainty and stress,” she stated. Ms Chelysheva was part of a group of people in Finland, Lithuania, and elsewhere who actively supported the Gatayev family throughout their ordeal. Ms Chelysheva said the decision of the Finnish Immigration Service was important not only because of its significant humanitarian component but also because it set a very strong precedent. The decision proved that Finland adhered to the principle of the superiority of human rights over political concerns, she stated. The asylum case was particularly thorny because the Gatayevs had fled from another EU member state. Lithuania’s State Security Department (VSD) began harrassing the Gatayevs after failing to coerce Malik Gatayev into cooperating with them in a shady plot in Russia. VSD agents fabricated charges of ill-treatment of the couple’s foster children. The Gatayevs were swiftly arrested, sentenced, and deprived of custodianship of their children. The case is still being heard in Lithuanian courts. Lithuanian authorities issued a European Arrest Warrant on the Gatayevs after their escape to Finland. However, Lithuania subsequently withdrew the extradition request after the country’s Supreme Court ordered a retrial in the criminal case against the couple. Six of the couple’s foster children are still being held in a SOS Children’s Village in Lithuania without any contact with their parents in Finland. Malik Gatayev noted that the Lithuanian authorities have continued to put pressure on the family. The family’s relatives and foster children have faced harrassment and persecution in Lithuania. In March 2012, a court in the Lithuanian city of Klaipeda, which was hearing an appeal on the case against the Gatayevs, issued another arrest warrant against the couple after they failed to appear before the court. Migri’s decision was not, however, based on the couple’s persecution in Lithuania, but on their need for protection from persecution in Russia. Under Finnish law, asylum can only be granted based on persecution in the applicant’s permanent place of residence. Authorities in Chechnya deprived the Gatayevs of custodianship of their foster children in Grozny and have made attempts to take the children held in Lithuania back to Chechnya. Malik Gatayev said the family’s rights had been violated repeatedly in both Lithuania and Russia. He said he was certain that the decision of the Finnish authorities to grant asylum to the family would finally convince those who had doubts about the case. In an interview with YLE News, Mr Gatayev said it had been hard for himself to believe that Lithuanian authorities could act in the manner they did against the family. Mr Gatayev expressed the family’s deepest thanks to the people who helped them throughout the process that lasted two years and seven months: Oksana Chelysheva, Anu Harju, Pirjo Honkasalo, Merja Jokela, Aki Kaurismäki, Anu Lönnqvist, Teemu Matinpuro, Kerkko Paananen, Hannu Paloviita, Eppu Salminen, Iida Simes, actors at the Helsinki City Theatre, doctors, journalists, even the staff at Vantaa Prison, and many others.