Monday, 14 September 2015

Hiding for their lives: Why I wrote The Defenceless

Kati Hiekkapelto © Ayo Onatade 2015
Today’s guest blog is by Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto.  Kati Hiekkapelto is a bestselling author, punk singer, performance artist and special-needs teacher. She lives on an old farm on the island of Hailuoto in Northern Finland with her children and sizeable menagerie. Her debut novel The Hummingbird was shortlisted for the 2015 Petrona Award.  The Defenceless won the top Finnish crime award in 2014.  The Vuoden Johtolanka (Clue) Award is given annually to the best Finnish crime fiction novel by the Dekkariseura (Finnish Crime Society).

One of the primary issues underpinning the plot of The Defenceless is illegal – or, as I prefer to call it, undocumented – migration. ‘Illegals’ are everywhere, and they are often families with small children, moving around Europe, being sent here and there like postcards by government authorities. It is a reality that is not really evident, as we go about our everyday lives. These people are not part of the society; they cannot work, go to school, rent a flat or receive social benefits. If they become ill, they can´t even go to a doctor because they have no ID. But they exist and their ‘illegal’ underground lives, stripped of any basic rights, is actually better than returning to their home countries, where most of them would probably face death. They are hiding for their lives.

In Finland, I am involved in a number refugee causes, and on one occasion I got to know a family in just such a situation. I was writing The Hummingbird when I met a Christian family from Pakistan – a mother, father and two children. They had been in Finland for several years, living in asylum centres. The youngest child was born here and the older was attending school, where he had learned excellent Finnish. And then one day they heard that their application for asylum was declined. The police could turn up at any moment to send them back to Pakistan.

The decision to deport was based on how the Finnish Immigration Service defined the security situation in Pakistan at the time. They decided that it is a safe country – at the very same time that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was advising Finnish people travelling to Pakistan quite the opposite. They reasoned that Pakistan, and especially certain areas of it (my family was from one of these areas), was dangerous to Finnish people but not to a Christian family whose home was occupied by extreme Muslims and whose life was in danger. The father of the family was extremely distressed. He had believed that Christian Europe would understand and help his family, but they didn’t seem to care, or to realise the grave danger that would face them upon their return.

So we were hid this family for a while in Hailuoto, where I live, keeping them underground until their appeal to the higher court was completed, which would give them a legal right to stay until their case was re-examined. In the end, they were lucky. Their appeal was accepted and they were granted permission to stay permanently in Finland.

But these things rarely have a happy ending. Many people are refused, some of them for good reason, of course, but far too many because officers either have no time to research their situation properly or they have incorrect and distorted information about safety in their home countries. I call this a racist immigration policy. Finland is difficult country to get into and it is meant to be so. We simply don´t offer enough asylum. The number of immigrants in Finland is embarrassingly low compared to any other welfare country.

This is how Sammy, one of the main characters in The Defenceless, began to take shape. I wanted to imagine and describe the situation where anything, even a life sentence in prison, would be better than going back home.

I think every writer – and especially a crime writer – is interested in hidden realities, ‘sub’ worlds behind the visible, ‘normal’ daily life we occupy and see. There is so much going on under the surface of our Nordic welfare state, and the average person simply doesn’t realise it. We go to work and to school; we shop and go home to rest and hang out with our families, believing that everything is fine. It’s too easy to close our eyes and turn on the telly. Maybe this is the main reason I want to write about minorities and refugees in my crime novels. I want people to see.

You can find out more about Kati Hiekkapelto and her work on her website.  You can also follow her on Twitter @HiekkapeltoKatiYou can also find her on Facebook.

The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto is out now (Orenda Books, £8.99)

When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members – and the police themselves. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.

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