Finland hosted nearly 1,200 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2002. These included about 700 refugees admitted from overseas, 450 asylum applicants awaiting a first-instance decision, and 85 persons granted asylum during the year.

During the year, 3,400 persons applied for asylum, more than twice the number in 2001. Most asylum seekers came from Romania (600), Slovak Republic (400), Bosnia (300), Bulgaria (290), and Russia (270).

The Directorate of Immigration, the initial refugee status determination authority, considered 1,400 cases under the normal, non-accelerated asylum procedure and 1,900 in the accelerated procedure in 2002. Of those, the Directorate granted asylum to 14 persons, an approval rate of 0.4 percent – one of the lowest in the European Union. The Directorate also granted 250 residence permits on protection grounds. Holders of such permits are entitled to the same public assistance as recognized refugees and can apply for family members to join them in Finland.

The Directorate rejected the applications of 2,300 persons during the year. Of those, they deemed 1,200 applications to be manifestly unfounded and found that 300 applicants came from safe countries of origin, the majority from the Slovak Republic. Another 300 applicants were returned to other countries under the Dublin Convention. (See "Dublin Convention" box, p. 176.)

The Helsinki Administrative Court received 730 appeals and made decisions on 621 of them, 404 under the accelerated procedure. It overturned negative decisions under the normal procedure in 65 cases or 30 percent, but in only 6, or 1.5 percent, of those in the accelerated procedure.

Normal Asylum Procedure

Finnish border authorities may refuse entry to foreigners who lack proper travel documents. However, Finnish law requires undocumented persons who request asylum 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 who are not detained 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 1999 Act on the Reception and Integration of Immigrants and Reception of Asylum Seekers, reception centers sponsor language classes for asylum seekers and failure to attend may reduce their eligibility for benefits. After residing in Finland for three months, asylum seekers receive permission to work, but it is limited to specific job offers.

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 Helsinki Court suspend removal in the normal process, but those to the Supreme Court do not.

Asylum seekers are entitled to free legal aid throughout the determination process, including appeals. Interpretation is also provided free of charge throughout.

Accelerated Procedures

Accelerated procedures are applied when the applicant comes from or has traveled through a country deemed safe, the application is considered manifestly unfounded, the Dublin Convention or the readmission clause of the Nordic Passport Control Convention is applicable, or the applicant has filed a new application after having received a negative decision, unless the application contains new grounds.

The Aliens Act provides strict time limits of seven and eight days, respectively, for the immigration Directorate and the Helsinki Court to make decisions in the accelerated procedure. Thus, applicants may have their cases adjudicated and be removed from the country in as little as 15 days. No time limit is imposed in the normal asylum process. In 2002, the average processing time for asylum applications was less than one year. The appeals process in the accelerated process is the same as in the normal one.

If applicants are in the accelerated procedure on safe-third-country or safe-country-of-origin grounds or because their application is deemed manifestly unfounded, they can be removed from the country eight days after the applicant is notified of the Directorate's decision. In cases where the Dublin Convention or the readmission clauses of the Nordic Passport Control Convention apply or where the applicant files a new application, however, the 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.

New Legislation

In March, the government enacted legislation outlining the rights of foreigners detained under the Aliens Act. The legislation requires the government to detain asylum seekers in detention centers rather than police cells or county prisons, and to advise foreigners of their rights upon being taken into custody.

In December, the government drafted a new Aliens Bill, but due to upcoming general elections in March 2003, it had not been adopted at year's end. The bill provided for new financial penalties on carriers transporting undocumented migrants into Finland; new rules on family reunion stipulating that, unless a child's welfare is at risk, parents will not have the right to join unaccompanied asylum seekingchildren.

Resettled Refugees and Integration

Finland annually resettles refugees selected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. During the year, the government admitted 700 refugees (out of a targeted quota of 750) from countries that included Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

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 provide them language instruction, job training, information about Finnish society and culture, and social contact with local Finns.

In May, the government reported that implementation of the Integration Act had been hindered by a lack of resources for municipalities, particularly for training programs for migrants. The report proposed the initiation of special projects for supporting migrant women, children, and elderly people, and increased information dissemination on the prevention of racism and discrimination.


Upon arrival, Finnish authorities may detain asylum seekers whose identity and travel route they cannot verify. Rejected asylum seekers may also be detained prior to their removal. In 2002, some 200 rejected asylum seekers were detained before being removed. There is no time limit to detention, but a Finnish court reviews cases within four days of the initial detention order, and every two weeks following. Detained asylum seekers have the right to communicate with their lawyers and may contact the Ombudsman for Minorities.

In July, under an amendment to the Aliens Act, the Finnish government opened a new detention center for asylum seekers supervised and maintained by the Ministry of Labor with the capacity for 30 asylum seekers. At year's end, the detention center held 97 asylum seekers.

Alternative Forms of Protection

The Directorate of Immigration may grant applicants who fail to meet the definition of a refugee a "residence permit based on protection grounds" if they face capital punishment, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment, armed conflict, or environmental catastrophe in their country of origin.


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