Refugee espionage seeks to silence and control

Authoritarian regimes are known to spy on citizens who have emigrated to Finland and engage in activities that these regimes consider a threat.

Illustration blue metal fence.

Refugee espionage refers to efforts by foreign public authorities to spy on and control people living in Finland. Every year Supo learns of cases of refugee espionage in which a foreign intelligence service seeks information concerning current or former citizens living in Finland.

The targets of such espionage usually belong to the political opposition in the country of origin, or to some ethnic or religious community or other group whose activities are considered a threat to the country sponsoring the espionage.

Methods employed include intimidation, bribery and extortion of victims and their relatives

Authoritarian regimes may pressure, bribe or blackmail their émigré citizens into providing information on people whom they consider to threaten the former homeland, such as the political opposition, ethnic communities and separatist groups. Naturalisation in Finland does not protect people from this form of espionage.

Pressure may be exerted on the individual in person, or on family members or other close associates who have remained in their country of origin. A target of refugee espionage may also be pressured into returning to the country of origin and, for example, then promptly imprisoned on arrival.

Cases may involve both espionage and harassment. Threats and harassment are ways of dissuading individuals in a diaspora from engaging in political, religious or organisation activities that resist the regime in the country of origin.

Refugee espionage is an affront to both the sovereignty of Finland and the security of victims

PRefugee espionage is a form of foreign intelligence operation that threatens both the national sovereignty of Finland and the privacy and security of its targets and their close associates. Finnish citizenship does not protect individuals from falling victim to such operations.

Supo has lobbied for refugee espionage to be made a criminal offence. The perpetrators of this form of espionage could be punished if it was a non-complainant criminal offence subject to public prosecution. For example, refugee espionage has already been criminalised in Sweden.