Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Finland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Finland , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e16210.html [accessed 25 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.

Finland hosted more than 2,600 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000. These included about 1,300 asylum applicants awaiting a decision at the first stage, 9 persons granted asylum during the year, 248 persons granted residence permits based on protection grounds, 325 Kosovo Albanians with temporary protection, and 756 "quota" refugees admitted during the year.

The number of asylum seekers arriving in Finland is low compared to most other Western European countries. During the year, 3,170 persons applied for asylum, just slightly more than in 1999, when 3,106 persons sought asylum.

Most asylum seekers came from Poland (1,210), the Slovak Republic (377), Russia (289), Yugoslavia (262), and the Czech Republic (178). The top three countries of origin in cases where some form of protection was granted were Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Persons from Poland, Slovakia, and Russia were most likely to be denied asylum or to have their cases closed.

The Directorate of Immigration, the first-instance refugee status determination authority, considered 757 cases under the "normal" (non-accelerated) asylum procedure. Of those, it granted asylum to 9 persons, for an approval rate of 1.2 percent. It permitted another 248 persons to remain in Finland for protection reasons and granted about 200 residence permits on other grounds (humanitarian or family reunification). Holders of such permits are entitled to the same social benefits as recognized refugees and can apply for family members to join them in Finland.

The directorate rejected the applications of 290 persons during the year. Another 1,049 applications were closed. The directorate rejected another 1,831 asylum applications under the "accelerated" procedure. Of those, 1,289 were regarded as "manifestly unfounded," 517 were rejected on "safe third country" grounds, and 25 applications were returned to other countries under the Dublin Convention.

At the appeals stage, the Administrative Court of Helsinki issued 662 decisions during 2000. Statistics were not available regarding the number of appeals granted or denied.

At year's end, approximately 1,300 applications were pending at the first instance. Another 250 applications were pending appeal.

The Helsinki Court, on its own initiative, granted residence permits based on protection grounds to a number of Somali nationals who appealed their asylum cases. The court also granted such protection to some Libyan nationals, contrary to the decisions by the immigration directorate.

Normal Asylum Procedure

In June 2000, Finland amended the Aliens Act to accelerate the process of deciding asylum cases and removing unsuccessful applicants from the country. The amendments became effective on July 10.

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. Asylum seekers must file applications with passport control officers or the local police.

After filing applications, 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 Integration Act (see below), reception centers sponsor language classes for asylum seekers, whose failure to attend may affect their receipt of social benefits. After residing in Finland for three months, asylum seekers receive limited permission to work.

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

Under the 1999 amendments, the Directorate of Immigration may grant refugee status or a residence permit for persons "in need of protection."

Applicants may appeal negative decisions issued by the directorate to the Helsinki Court. The decision of the Helsinki Court may be appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, but only if permission is granted. Appeals to the Supreme Court do not suspend removal.

Accelerated Procedures

Although Finland had in place accelerated procedures for certain asylum applicants prior to 2000, the amendments that became effective in July further accelerated the process. The amendments provide strict time limits of seven days and eight days, respectively, for the immigration directorate and the Helsinki Court to make decisions on asylum cases placed in the accelerated procedures. Thus, certain asylum applicants may have their cases adjudicated and be removed from the country within 15 days of application.

Accelerated procedures are applied to situations in which: the applicant comes from a "safe country of origin" or a "safe country of asylum" (also known as "safe third country"); the application is considered "manifestly unfounded"; the Dublin Convention (see box, p. 198) or the readmission clause of the Nordic Passport Control Convention can be applied; or the applicant filed a new application after having received a negative decision on asylum. (If the new application contains new relevant grounds for staying in the country, however, it cannot be dealt with through an accelerated procedure.)

Under the July amendments, the directorate must make a decision within seven days in cases where the applicant comes from a safe country. No time limit is imposed for the other asylum procedures.

The appeals process under the accelerated procedures is the same as under the normal procedure. However, there are differences between the two procedures regarding the enforcement of decisions (i.e., removal from the country). Under the July amendments, applicants whose cases are handled through the accelerated procedure can be removed from the country eight days after the applicant is notified of the directorate's decision on refusal of entry. An appeal to the Helsinki Court will not delay the applicant's removal.

In cases where the Dublin Convention or the readmission clauses of the Nordic Passport Control Convention can be applied or the applicant files a new application after being denied asylum, the first-instance decision of the directorate can be enforced as soon as the applicant is notified of the decision. An appeal to the Helsinki Court will not delay the enforcement.

Lawyers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) charge that small, local police stations near the border, where initial interviews are carried out, are not prepared to process applications in the shortened time frame. Some say the July amendments could also lead to increased detention of asylum seekers.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by year's end, the law appeared to have achieved its goal of reducing the number of new applications from certain countries of origin, such as Roma arriving from Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic.

In August, a Pakistani man who was denied asylum and deported under the amended law was, according to his lawyers, immediately jailed upon arrival in Pakistan. The lawyers said Finnish authorities failed to consider evidence of threats against the man's life and also refused to await a decision on his application for residence in Canada.

Resettled Refugees

Finland annually resettles "quota" refugees selected by UNHCR. Finland's targeted quota for the year 2000 was 700.

In April, Finland agreed to resettle 100 Burmese students from a holding camp in Thailand following a Thai government crackdown on the students. During the year, Finland admitted 756 quota refugees, because some unused spaces for refugees were carried over from the previous year. Their countries of origin included Afghanistan (188), Iraq (147), Iran (118), Croatia (100), Burma (94), and Yugoslavia (93).

The refugees are resettled in municipalities as soon as they reach Finland. Under the 1999 Integration Act, local authorities are required to provide support and integration facilities for the refugees. The Act requires the municipality or the employment office to develop an individualized integration program with the refugee, to be continued for up to three years. The objective is to assist refugees with language, job training, and adjustment to Finnish society and culture.

Kosovo Albanians

At the end of 2000, Finland still hosted 325 of the more than 1,000 Kosovo Albanians (including family members arriving later) admitted in 1999 under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP).

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

Repatriation operations began in August 1999 for Kosovo Albanians willing to return. Each returnee received financial assistance covering travel expenses and a return grant of about $700 (4,400 Finnish Markka) per person. The Finnish authorities permitted repatriated Kosovo Albanians to return to Finland while their initial residence permits remained valid.

By the end of 2000, 680 of the HEP evacuees had returned to Kosovo.

Roma

According to UNHCR, the Roma were the most significant caseload in Finland in 2000, resulting in widespread attention by the media and decision-making bodies. The July amendments to the Aliens Act were largely aimed at preventing ethnic Roma asylum seekers with "manifestly unfounded" claims from remaining in Finland through a long, drawn-out procedure.

Finland continued to deny asylum to ethnic Roma from Eastern Europe, saying they came from "safe" countries and that many were fleeing social and economic hardship. Some 1,700 ethnic Roma applied for asylum in Finland in 1999. There were 1,300 Roma applications as of July 2000, when the new law shortening the adjudication time went into effect.

In January, in a reaction to the arrival of hundreds of Slovak Roma asylum applicants – none of whom were granted asylum – Finland reintroduced a visa requirement for persons from Slovakia. The Slovak foreign ministry reacted with disappointment but said it knew the action was a protective measure to curb the new influx of asylum seekers.

The Aliens Act amendments, which further accelerated the procedure for certain asylum applicants, went into effect four days before the visa requirement for Slovak citizens expired. The day before the law came into effect, 31 ethnic Roma from Poland entered Finland through Russia and requested asylum. Fewer than three weeks later, 50 Slovak Roma reportedly applied for asylum.

Finland also sought to prevent the arrival of Roma from Poland who arrive via Sweden. The head of Finland's border control said Swedish authorities should realize that the Roma are asylum seekers rather than tourists and should therefore prevent them from traveling on to Finland. Swedish border authorities said it is not possible to stop Polish Roma from traveling through Sweden if they have money and return tickets.

Other Developments

In September, press reports said Finland was concerned about possible organized smuggling of asylum seekers from former Soviet states who enter Finland from Russia. Six groups of asylum seekers had apparently been detected entering the country through the forests of the Kainuu region, with most cases being discovered in August. Finnish authorities were reportedly concerned by Russia's plans to cut back on the monitoring of its borders with Finland and Norway to focus more on the southern border areas where illegal crossings and smuggling had increased.

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