United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Finland, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8ba40.html [accessed 4 March 2015]
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During 1996, 711 persons applied for asylum in Finland, a 16.7 percent decrease from the 854 persons who applied during 1995. The largest groups of asylum seekers during the year (including dependents) were from Somalia (140), Iraq (72), Russia (63), Kenya (48), and Yugoslavia (47). An estimated 1,000 or more Bosnians remained in Finland under various statuses at the end of 1996. During 1996, the Directorate of Immigration issued asylum decisions affecting 593 persons, awarding Convention refugee status to only 11 persons, an asylum approval rate of 1.9 percent. Those granted asylum were from Afghanistan, Georgia, and Iran. In addition to those granted Convention refugee status, 334 persons were awarded temporary residence permits on various grounds, meaning that a total of 345 persons, 58.2 percent of all those whose cases were decided, received at least some form of protection. The remaining 248 persons, 41.8 percent of the total, were rejected for all categories of protection. The applications of 151 other persons were withdrawn or administratively closed during the year. At the end of 1996, asylum applications representing 563 people remained undecided. Persons who receive one level of protection in Finland can appeal to the Asylum Appeals Board for a higher level of protection. The Asylum Appeals Board can grant Convention refugee status or a residence permit on protection grounds, but cannot grant a residence permit on lesser grounds. During 1996, the Asylum Appeals Board (which reports on the number of cases rather than the number of individuals) issued decisions on 65 cases, granting Convention refugee status in one case each involving appellants from Georgia and Sri Lanka. The Board also granted a residence permit on protection grounds in one case involving applicants from Iran. The Board rejected the other 62 cases it decided (seven others were withdrawn or otherwise closed). Finland annually resettles about 500 "quota" refugees identified by UNHCR. During 1996, Finland admitted 429 persons under this quota, as well as 176 Bosnians under a supplemental quota. Asylum Procedure The asylum procedure in Finland is governed by the Aliens Act of 1991, as amended in 1993. Asylum seekers are required to file applications with passport control officers or local police officials. The police conduct investigations of certain aspects of the asylum application that do not relate to the veracity of the claim itself. After filing an application for asylum, asylum seekers are placed in reception centers, which may be run by the national government, municipalities, or the Red Cross, unless they prefer to find a place of their own. After they have been in Finland for four months, asylum seekers have a limited right to work. The Directorate of Immigration, an independent office within the Ministry of the Interior, issues first-instance asylum decisions, and can grant Convention refugee status or a residence permit on one of several grounds, including "need of protection" and "humanitarian." Those decisions may be appealed to the Asylum Appeals Board, an independent body supervised by the Ministry of Justice. However, asylum applications deemed by the Directorate of Immigration to be either clearly or manifestly unfounded cannot be appealed (although manifestly unfounded rulings are subject to limited review). Persons entering Finland from "safe" countries are subject to an accelerated procedure, under which the Directorate of Immigration can reject their applications as "clearly unfounded." Following this ruling, the rejected applicant can be "refused entry" and expelled. Although the rejection of the asylum application cannot be appealed, applicants may appeal the decision to refuse entry to the Supreme Administrative Court. In 1995, UNHCR noted that the procedures followed in such cases "do not always benefit from adequate procedural safeguards." Of the 593 persons whose asylum applications were decided during 1996, the applications of 27 persons were deemed to be clearly unfounded. Such rulings cannot be appealed and are not subject to review. Although the criteria for "manifestly unfounded" rejections were unclear, they are believed to include inconsistencies in the claim, an unclear travel route, or generally weak grounds for the application. Unlike in the procedure for clearly unfounded claims, the chairperson of the Asylum Appeals Board is required to assess a manifestly unfounded ruling. If the chairperson supports such a ruling, the decision constitutes a final negative decision with no right of appeal. However, if the chairperson disagrees with the manifestly unfounded ruling, the case is considered to have received an ordinary negative decision with the right of appeal to the full board. Of the 593 asylum decisions issued by the Directorate of Immigration during 1996, the applications of 101 persons, 17 percent of the total, were deemed to be manifestly unfounded. The chairperson of the Asylum Appeals Board disagreed with the manifestly unfounded rulings in cases involving 11 of these 101 applicants. During the year, 21.6 percent of all asylum decisions issued by the Directorate of Immigration involved either clearly or manifestly unfounded rulings. Restrictive Measures Finnish border authorities may refuse entry to aliens arriving without required travel documents. However, Finnish law requires that undocumented aliens who submit claims for asylum at the border be admitted to pursue those claims. Under the 1958 Nordic Passport Union, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are required to check passports at their borders with nonsignatory states and to readmit nationals of nonsignatory states who have passed through their territory and entered the territory of another signatory state without the necessary travel documents. A readmission agreement with Estonia signed in 1995 came into force on October 3, 1996. Finnish authorities have indicated that the agreement will not be applied to asylum seekers until Estonia has implemented an asylum determination procedure. In December 1996, Finland signed the acts of adhesion to become a full member of the Schengen group of European Union countries. The Schengen Agreement outlines responsibilities for adjudicating asylum claims for applicants who arrive in the countries covered by the agreement and provides for the removal of border controls between member states, among other provisions. Finland's eastern border will become an external Schengen border when the accord is fully implemented, probably not sooner than 1999. Former Yugoslavs An estimated 1,000 or more Bosnian refugees remained in Finland under various statuses at the end of 1996, according to UNHCR. According to the government, only four Bosnians had temporary status in Finland during 1996. Generally, Bosnians in Finland have received residence permits allowing them to remain permanently.