Finland hosted more than 2,100 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2001. These included about 750 asylum applicants awaiting a first-instance decision, 4 persons granted asylum during the year, 346 persons granted residence permits on protection grounds, 400 Kosovo Albanians with temporary protection, and nearly 600 "quota" refugees admitted during the year.

The number of asylum seekers who arrive in Finland is low compared to most other Western European countries. During the year, 1,651 persons applied for asylum, nearly 50 percent fewer than in 2001, when 3,170 persons sought asylum.

Most asylum seekers came from Russia (283), Ukraine (137), Iraq (100), Turkey (89), former Yugoslavia (86), Slovak Republic (83), and Bangladesh (60). Most asylum seekers who received some form of protection were from the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Turkey.

The Directorate of Immigration, the first-instance refugee status determination authority, considered 1,274 cases under the normal (nonaccelerated) asylum procedure in 2001. Of those, the directorate granted asylum to four persons, an approval rate of .03 percent. Officials permitted another 346 persons to remain in Finland for protection reasons and granted about 463 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 1,083 persons during the year. Of those, 622 were rejected under accelerated procedures, including 400 applications regarded as "manifestly unfounded" and 100 applicants who came from "safe countries of origin." Another 122 applicants were returned to other countries under the Dublin Convention (see box, p. 190).

Normal Asylum Procedure

Finnish border authorities may refuse entry to foreigners who lack proper travel documents. However, Finnish law requires that undocumented persons who submit asylum claims at the border be admitted to pursue those claims. Asylum seekers must file applications with passport control officers or the local police. Police may detain undocumented asylum seekers in local facilities for up to four days, after which they may be transferred to a prison.

After filing applications, asylum seekers reside in reception centers managed by the federal government, local municipalities, or the Red Cross, unless they decide to find their own lodging. As part of the Integration Act, reception centers sponsor language classes for asylum seekers, whose failure to attend may affect their eligibility for social benefits. After residing in Finland for three months, asylum seekers receive limited permission to work.

The Directorate of Immigration may grant refugee status or a residence permit to 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

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 a "safe third country"); the application is considered "manifestly unfounded;" the Dublin Convention 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 the accelerated procedure.)

The Aliens Act provides 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 procedure. Thus, certain asylum applicants may have their cases adjudicated and be removed from the country within 15 days of application. 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. In 2001, the average processing time for asylum applications was one year and three months.

The appeals process under the accelerated procedure 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). 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.

In cases where the Dublin Convention or the readmission clauses of the Nordic Passport Control Convention apply 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.

Resettled Refugees

Finland annually resettles "quota" refugees selected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). During the year, the government admitted nearly 600 refugees (out of a targeted quota of 750) from countries that included Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Turkey.

The refugees are resettled in municipalities upon their arrival in 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 for each refugee, lasting up to three years, to assist them with language, job training, and adjustment to Finnish society and culture.

Kosovo Albanians

At the end of 2001, Finland still hosted about 400 of the more than 1,000 Kosovo Albanians (including family members who arrived later) admitted in 1999 under the humanitarian evacuation program (HEP).

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 $660 (740 euros) per person. The Finnish authorities permitted repatriated Kosovo Albanians to return to Finland while their initial residence permits remained valid.

New Developments

In 2001, the government of Finland proposed an amendment to the Act on the Reception and Integration of Asylum Seekers to add provisions for people in need of temporary shelter. The proposed amendment covers situations of mass migration caused by war or instances of environmental disaster.

The government also proposed legislation outlining the rights of foreigners detained under the Aliens Act. The proposed legislation requires the fair treatment of foreigners in detention and mandates that foreigners be advised of their rights upon being taken into custody.


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