United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Finland, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8be4c.html [accessed 24 September 2014]
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At the end of 1997, Finland hosted more than 1,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 1,008 applicants with pending asylum cases, 277 persons granted temporary protection, four persons granted asylum, and 316 refugees resettled during the year. During the year, 973 persons applied for asylum in Finland, a 36.8 percent increase from the 711 persons who applied during 1996. The largest groups of asylum seekers (including dependents) were from the former Yugoslavia (289), Somalia (184), Iraq (102), and Russia (70). During 1997, the Directorate of Immigration issued asylum decisions affecting 559 persons, awarding Convention refugee status only to four persons, an asylum approval rate of just 0.7 percent. Those granted asylum were from Turkey, Togo, and Iran. In addition to those granted Convention refugee status, 277 persons received temporary residence permits, meaning that 281 persons, 50 percent of all whose cases were decided, received at least some form of protection. Residence permits, based on the need for protection or on strong humanitarian grounds, are de facto statuses: holders of these permits are entitled to family reunion and the same social benefits as Convention refugees. The Ministry of Interior categorizes them under "refugees and asylum seekers." The remaining 278 persons, 50 percent, were rejected for all categories of protection. The applications of 183 other persons were withdrawn or administratively closed during the year. Persons who receive one level of protection in Finland can appeal to the Asylum Appeals Board for a higher level. 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 1997, the Asylum Appeals Board (which reports on the number of cases rather than the number of individuals) issued decisions on 70 cases, granting Convention refugee status in five cases, including four appellants from Iran and one from Turkey. The board also granted a residence permit on protection grounds in 16 cases involving applicants from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Syria. The board rejected the other 54 cases it decided (ten others were withdrawn or otherwise closed). Finland annually resettles about 500 "quota" refugees identified by UNHCR. During 1997, Finland admitted 304 persons under this quota, as well as 11 Bosnians and five Vietnamese from Hong Kong under a supplemental quota. The Finnish government planned to increase the quota to 600 in 1998 and to 700 in 1999. Asylum Procedure The asylum procedure in Finland is governed by the Aliens Act of 1991, as amended in 1993 and 1995. Asylum seekers must file applications with passport control officers or local police officials, who briefly interview asylum applicants to establish identity, nationality, travel route, the reasons they are applying for asylum, and the presence of nuclear family members in Finland. The asylum seeker also completes an application in his/her own language about the reasons for the asylum claim. The Directorate for Immigration bases its first-instance decisions on these reports. After filing an application, asylum seekers stay in reception centers, managed by the national government, municipalities, or the Red Cross, unless they prefer to find their own lodging. The police can detain asylum seekers who cannot verify their identity for up to four days, after which the asylum seeker may be transferred to a normal prison. 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." Applicants may appeal those decisions 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 unfounded" 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 1997, Finland considered all European Union member states, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, the Russian Federation, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to be safe countries of origin. Of the 559 persons whose asylum applications were decided during 1997, 24 were deemed to be clearly unfounded. 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 must 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, the case is considered to have received an ordinary negative decision, with the right of appeal to the full board. Of the 559 asylum decisions issued by the Directorate of Immigration during 1997, the applications of 88 persons, 15.7 percent of the total, were deemed to be manifestly unfounded. During the year, 20 percent of all asylum decisions issued by the Directorate of Immigration involved either clearly unfounded or manifestly unfounded rulings. In January 1997, the government-appointed Commission for Migration and Refugee Policy presented its report. Among its proposals, the committee suggested that: asylum interviews should be conducted by the Directorate of Immigration rather than local police officers; the processing of asylum claims should take no longer than 18 months; the Appeals Board should be abolished; and the list of "safe countries" of origin should be abolished, but applicants who arrive in Finland from a "safe third country" should automatically be put into the "accelerated procedure." (Several of the changes noted above came into force on January 1, 1998 as amendments to the Finnish Aliens' Act). Restrictive Measures Finnish border authorities may refuse entry to aliens 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. Former Yugoslavs Some 1,350 Bosnians with permanent residence permits remained in Finland at the end of 1997, according to UNHCR. According to the government, there were no Bosnians with temporary status in Finland at year's end.