19 May 2016

New guidelines issued by the Finnish Immigration Service this week are restricting the requirements for the granting of residence permits to asylum seekers in the country. Under the new amendments to the Aliens Act, residence permits on the basis of humanitarian protection will no longer be granted.

Humanitarian protection is normally granted to those applicants who not qualify for asylum or subsidiary protection but who cannot be returned to their home countries due to a bad security situation, poor human rights record or an environmental catastrophe. Until now, a few hundred residence permits on the basis of humanitarian protection were granted every year in Finland, mostly to applicants from Iraq and Somalia.

Furthermore, as part of a regular assessment conducted by the Finnish Immigration Service, the security situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia has been re-evaluated. The Finnish Agency found a gradual improvement of the security situation in those countries, which will now make it possible to return asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia on the basis that the existence of an armed conflict does not represent a danger to them only because they are staying the country.

“This evaluation does not seem to be based on actual country of origin information from these three countries but on what is happening in other EU countries, especially Sweden,” stated ECRE member Finnish Refugee Aid Centre. “The Finnish government is trying to portray this as inevitable policy, but this is purely about a race to the bottom. Finland used to be a country that follows UNHCR guidelines, though at this point the Finnish government has not even waited for them. This is a most alarming development.”

All three countries in question present protracted or recently renewed armed conflicts which exert a high civilian toll. Reports from civil society and international organisations document a landscape of violence and threats to the lives of civilians. In addition, Iraqis nationals are eligible to participate in the European relocation mechanism, as a testament to their general high international protection recognition rate across Europe.

“We are concerned about the impact of these amendments and guidelines on the situation of asylum seekers, and we highlight the necessity to process each asylum application on the basis of individual assessment and the principle of non-refoulement”, stated the Finnish Red Cross, an ECRE member.

In 2015, Finland received 32,500 asylum applications compared to 3,600 in 2014, mostly from Iraqis, Afghanis and Somalis.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 May 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.