Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Finland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Finland , 1 June 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8ce8.html [accessed 21 April 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.

Finland

At the end of 1999, Finland hosted about 3,750 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included some 2,100 asylum applicants awaiting a decision, 29 granted asylum, 425 granted humanitarian status, about 600 Kosovo Albanians with temporary protection, about 50 rejected Yugoslav asylum applicants still in need of protection, and 543 refugees resettled in Finland during the year.

During the year, 3,106 persons applied for asylum, an increase of nearly 150 percent over 1998, when 1,272 persons sought asylum. The increase stemmed primarily from an influx of 1,516 Slovak Roma asylum seekers. In addition, 324 Roma from Poland applied for asylum in 1999. Other groups of asylum seekers included persons from Russia (189), Yugoslavia (127), Turkey (115), Iraq (97), and Somalia (73).

The Directorate of Immigration issued first-instance decisions on asylum applications during 1999, granting refugee status to 29 persons, an approval rate of less than two percent. The largest groups granted asylum came from Yugoslavia (11), Afghanistan (8), and Iraq (5).

The directorate granted 425 persons residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Holders of such permits are entitled to the same social benefits as Convention refugees and can apply for family members abroad to join them in Finland. Finland also granted temporary protection to about 1,000 Kosovo Albanians during 1999, although some 400 had returned home by year's end.

The directorate denied any form of protection to 1,330 persons, 74 percent of asylum seekers whose cases were decided. The authorities closed the cases of 899 applicants during the year.

In the appeals stage, the Helsinki Administrative Court issued 150 decisions during 1999, confirming the rejection of 79 applicants and granting asylum or permanent residence permits to 15 persons. The court returned 48 applications to the Directorate of Immigration for re-examination.

Finland annually resettles "quota" refugees selected by UNHCR. During 1999, Finland admitted 543 quota refugees, including persons from Iran (261), Iraq (128), and the former Yugoslavia (104). The government set the 1999 resettlement quota for 650 individuals, of whom only 132 arrived; the remaining 411 arrivals were persons who entered under the 1998 quota. NGOs reported that administrative difficulties in meeting the yearly quotas resulted in the frequent carry-over of admission spaces from year to year, but that generally all quota spaces are used.

In October, Finland hosted a meeting of the European Union (EU) member nations to discuss how to implement the Amsterdam Treaty, which entered force in May 1999. Asylum and migration matters were among the main issues covered in the meeting; EU leaders agreed to work towards the creation of a common migration policy (see chart).

Asylum Procedure

Finland's asylum procedure is governed by the 1991 Aliens Law, as amended. In May 1999, a few amendments to the Aliens Law took effect. Changes included an expanded right to appeal and greater legal protection for those applying for and receiving residence permits based on family reunification.

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 the asylum application, and the presence of family members 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. As part of the new Integration Act (described below), reception centers sponsor language classes for asylum seekers, whose failure to attend may affect their social benefits. After residing in Finland for three months, asylum seekers receive limited permission to work.

Police may detain undocumented asylum seekers for up to four days, after which they may be transferred to a normal prison.

Under the May amendments, the Directorate of Immigration may grant Convention refugee status or a residence permit for persons "in need of protection." The amendments eliminated a prior distinction between residence permits issued on "humanitarian grounds" and for those "in need of protection."

Since the amendments entered into force, the Directorate has issued more residence permits to asylum seekers on grounds other than protection. Finnish NGOs expressed concern over this development because certain nationalities such as Iraqis and Somalis have not received refugee-related statuses despite claims based on the need for protection. For recipients of residence statuses not related to protection, family reunification is more difficult. These recipients may be required to cover expenses for family members, which many cannot afford. Municipalities receive subsidies only for resettling persons with refugee-related statuses; others often have difficulty finding housing.

Applicants can appeal negative decisions issued by the directorate to the Helsinki Administrative Court, which replaced the Asylum Appeals Board on January 1, 1998. Amendments to the Aliens Act enacted in 1998 allow asylum seekers to provide additional information rebutting denials. However, asylum seekers automatically receive an expulsion order along with a negative decision.

Restrictive Measures

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

Finland adopted a single accelerated procedure in 1998. Applicants arriving from "safe third countries" have their cases decided in the accelerated procedure. In 1999, Finland considered all European Union (EU) member states, European Economic Area member countries, Switzerland, Canada, and the United States to be safe third countries.

Finland also places cases deemed "manifestly unfounded" into the accelerated procedure. Cases considered manifestly unfounded include those not based on serious human rights violations or those whose motive is to "abuse the asylum procedure." In 1999, Finland rejected 1,099 cases considered manifestly unfounded. Persons denied asylum in the accelerated procedure may appeal their case to the Helsinki Administrative Court.

Finland began implementing the Dublin Convention on January 1, 1998. Finland has ratified both the EU Treaty of Amsterdam and the Schengen Convention (see chart).

Finland imposed temporary visa requirements on Slovak citizens in July, following a large influx of Roma asylum seekers from Slovakia. In 1999, 1,516 Slovak Roma sought asylum in Finland, more than the total number of all asylum seekers applying in 1998. Norway and Denmark also enacted visa requirements for Slovak nationals in response to similar influxes of Slovak Roma asylum seekers during the year. The Finnish authorities lifted the visa requirement in November.

Although 324 Polish Roma also submitted asylum applications in 1999, Finland did not impose a visa requirement for Polish citizens. The Finnish authorities did not grant protection statuses to Polish or Slovak asylum seekers in 1999.

(In January 2000, the government began to discuss imposing visa requirements on Polish nationals following an increase in the number of Polish Roma asylum seekers in the last months of 1999. The authorities reinstated the visa requirement for Slovak nationals on February 15, 2000.)

New Integration Act

In May, the Integration Act came into force. Under the act, the authorities work with each refugee to devise an individualized integration program that includes Finnish culture courses, language classes, and vocational training. During the program, refugees receive the same social benefits as Finnish citizens. Failure to participate in the integration program may lead the authorities to revoke some social benefits.

The Integration Act also included legislation on unaccompanied minors. Each unaccompanied minor now receives a legal representative who attends asylum interviews and meetings with the child's lawyer, and participates in all decisions regarding the child. Finnish NGOs reported that this arrangement better suits the special situation of children asylum seekers than previous practice, which largely ignored children's special needs. In 1999, 127 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Finland.

Kosovo Albanians

In 1999, about 1,000 Kosovo Albanians arrived under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP). Their arrival prompted a proposed amendment on temporary protection to the Aliens Act, which had not passed at year's end (see below).

Finland granted HEP evacuees temporary protection, including 11-month residence permits renewable for up to three years. The Finnish authorities allow Kosovo Albanians to apply for asylum in the normal procedure, but will not examine their claims until their temporary protection has expired.

Accommodated in ten reception centers, the Kosovo Albanians received the same social benefits as asylum seekers but did not participate in integration programs. Unlike recognized refugees, the Kosovo Albanians were not registered in their local municipalities and had no access to certain social benefits, such as unemployment support, pensions, or adult study grants. Adults received work permits. Children were permitted to attend school.

Repatriation operations began in August for Kosovo Albanians willing to return. Each returnee received financial assistance covering travel expenses and a return grant of 4,400 Finnish Markka ($700) per person. The Finnish authorities permitted repatriated Kosovo Albanians to return to Finland while their initial residence permits remained valid.

By November, 389 Kosovo refugees had returned, including HEP evacuees, asylum applicants, and a few recognized refugees.

Proposed Legislation

Prompted by the spontaneous arrival of asylum seekers from Kosovo, the Finnish Ministry of Interior proposed amending the Aliens Act to include temporary protection in situations of mass flight to persons fleeing armed conflict, generalized violence, or environmental catastrophe – when the government estimates that the need for protection will indeed be temporary. Under the proposed law, temporary protection would be valid for a year, renewable, and allow recipients to work. After temporary protection ends, recipients would be able to apply for asylum in the regular procedure.

The government drafted this legislation because it did not want to treat spontaneous asylum seekers from Kosovo differently from the HEP arrivals. Until the temporary protection legislation passes, the Directorate of Immigration will not process the applications of asylum seekers from Kosovo.

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