Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July 2014, 14:56 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Finland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Finland , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8ce20.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1998, Finland hosted 2,355 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 1,400 applicants with pending cases at year's end, 7 granted asylum, 372 granted humanitarian status, and 576 refugees resettled in Finland during the year.

During 1998, 1,272 persons applied for asylum in Finland, an increase of 31 percent over 1997, when 973 persons sought asylum. The largest groups of asylum seekers arrived from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (348), Somalia (135), Turkey (98), Iraq (84), and Russia (65). Some 135 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 1998, a 20 percent increase over 1997.

The Directorate of Immigration issued first-instance asylum decisions affecting 866 persons during 1998, granting refugee status to 7 persons (Afghanistan 5, Cuba 1, and Iraq 1), an approval rate of less than 1 percent.

About 44 percent of all cases decided in the first instance received some form of protection. Some 372 persons received residence permits based the need for protection on humanitarian grounds. Holders of such permits are entitled to family reunion and the same social benefits as Convention refugees. The Ministry of Interior categorizes them as "refugees and asylum seekers."

Finland did not grant temporary protection to any applicants during 1998. Finnish authorities denied any form of protection to 240 persons, 27 percent of asylum seekers whose cases were decided.

During 1998, the District Administrative Court, (the appeals body in the asylum procedure in Finland) issued 99 appeals decisions. The court overturned only five negative decisions made by the Directorate of Immigration. Of these, the court granted refugee status in only one case and four residence permits on protection grounds.

Finland annually resettles "quota" refugees selected by UNHCR. During 1998, Finland admitted 576 quota refugees from Iran (268), Iraq (131), Croatia (62), Afghanistan (56), and Bosnia (39). In 1998, the Finnish government increased its annual quota yearly by 100 spaces, and plans eventually to increase the refugee quota to 1,000 spaces.

Asylum Procedure

Finland's asylum procedure is governed by the Aliens Act of 1991, as amended in 1993, 1995, and 1998. Amendments to the Aliens Act in January 1998 resulted mostly in procedural changes (described below).

Asylum seekers must file applications with passport control officers or the local police, who are responsible for interviewing applicants to establish nationality, travel route, reasons for asylum application, and if family members are present in Finland. The asylum seeker also completes a questionnaire that the Directorate for Immigration relies upon to issue a first-instance decision.

After filing an application, asylum seekers reside in reception centers managed by the national government, local municipalities, or the Red Cross, unless they decide to find their own lodging. Police may detain undocumented asylum seekers for up four days, after which the asylum seeker may be transferred to a normal prison. After residing in Finland for four months, asylum seekers receive a limited right to work.

During 1998, the Directorate of Immigration, an independent office within the interior ministry, which issues first instance asylum decisions, granted refugee status or a residence permit on one of several grounds, including "in need of protection" and "humanitarian." Applicants can appeal these decisions at the District Administrative Court of the Province of Uusimaa, which replaced the Asylum Appeals Board on January 1, 1998.

Finland abandoned its practice of denying certain asylum applications as "clearly unfounded" in January 1998. It also discontinued lists used to channel asylum applicants arriving from safe countries of origin into an accelerated asylum procedure. Instead, Finland adopted a single accelerated procedure in the 1998 amendments to the Aliens Act.

Under the new regulations, applicants arriving from "safe third countries" have their cases decided in the accelerated procedure. In 1998, Finland considered all European Union member states, European Economic Area member countries, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States to be safe third countries. Finland returned an estimated 40 asylum seekers on safe third country grounds in 1998.

Finland also places cases deemed "manifestly unfounded" into accelerated procedures. Cases considered "manifestly unfounded" include those not founded on serious human rights violations or those whose motive is to "abuse the asylum procedure."

Persons denied asylum in the accelerated procedure may appeal their case to the District Administrative Court. The 1998 amendments grant asylum seekers the possibility to offer additional information rebutting denials. Applicants denied by the court may be refused entry and expelled without possibility for further appeal.

Of the 866 first-instance decisions it issued in 1998, the Directorate of Immigration rejected 92 cases as "manifestly unfounded." The Administrative Court upheld the negative first-instance decisions in 69 of 77 manifestly unfounded cases examined in 1998.

The 1998 legislative changes also affected Finnish policy on expulsion of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers now automatically receive an expulsion order along with a negative asylum decision. The Directorate of Immigration issued 200 expulsion orders in 1998.

The asylum procedure in Finland remains slow. The waiting time for a first instance decision can be up to two years, and with appeals, the entire asylum process can last up to four years.

Restrictive Measures

Finnish border authorities may refuse entry to foreigners without the required travel documents. However, Finnish law requires that undocumented aliens submitting asylum claims at the border be admitted to pursue those claims.

Finland began implementation of the Dublin Convention on January 1, 1998. In accordance with the Convention, Finland submitted 117 requests for transfer of asylum applications to other Dublin signatories in 1998, of which 42 were accepted. Dublin partners rejected 29 of Finland's transfer requests, and 46 remained pending at year's end.

During 1998, Finland received 57 requests for readmission under the Dublin Convention, 44 of which were accepted. Finland rejected seven transfer requests lodged by other Dublin signatories, and six claims remained pending at the end of 1998.

Finland's president ratified both the European Union Treaty of Amsterdam and the Schengen Convention on July 10, 1998 after parliament had passed both agreements. The Amsterdam Treaty expands the role of the EU to develop common immigration and asylum policies. The Schengen Convention allows for an eventual elimination of border controls among the signatory nations.

In response to similar measures enacted in Sweden and Norway, Finland imposed visa requirements on Colombian citizens in January 1999. Some 20 Colombians sought asylum in Finland during 1998; there were no Colombian applicants in 1997.

Former Yugoslavs

Some 1,335 Bosnians with permanent residence permits remained in Finland at the end of 1998. Finland supports voluntary repatriation of Bosnians who have refugee status or a permanent residence permit. During 1998, 15 Bosnians repatriated with government assistance. In 1996 and 1997, 73 Bosnians returned to Bosnia.

Kosovo Albanians constituted the largest group of asylum seekers in Finland during 1998. Finland applied the safe third country principle to the majority of the cases, as many had transited via Germany.

Readmission Agreements

During 1998, Finland signed a readmission agreement with Bulgaria, which took effect on February 17, 1999. Finland had previously entered into readmission agreements with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Finland is also a member of the Nordic Passport Union, which includes readmission obligation of aliens between Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

(In February 1999, the Finnish parliament approved further amendments to its Aliens Act that eliminate the distinction between residence permits issued on "humanitarian grounds" and for those "in need in protection." Further changes include an expanded right to appeal and greater legal protection for those applying for and receiving residence permits based on family reunification.)

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