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Finland: Proposal to Change Asylum Policy

(June 9, 2009) Finland's government is drafting a proposal for changes to the country's policies on asylum; the proposal will be presented to the legislature. The goal is to reduce the number of asylum applications that are eventually turned down as not qualifying for protection by making Finland a less attractive destination. The proposal was drawn up based on a report by the Ministry of the Interior and sent to the Minister of Immigration, Astrid Thors, on June 2, 2009. In 2008, over 4,000 people sought asylum in Finland, causing work backups for the immigration authorities, the police, and those running refugee reception centers. (Government Prepares Changes to Asylum Policy: Proposal Aimed at Reducing Unfounded Applications, HELSINGIN SANOMAT INTERNATIONAL EDITION, June 3, 2009, available at

Rules on family unification, the right to work while an application for asylum is being reviewed, and the review process itself will be changed. Under the new policy, a person would have to live in Finland for at least a year before applying for permission to bring a relative into the country. This new requirement would apply to those granted asylum on grounds other than being found to be a refugee. Furthermore, if a relative arrives in the country on the basis of false information, family reunification will not apply. Parents will have to prove that any child they claim is a foster child has actually been part of the family, residing in the same domicile before coming to Finland. Family ties were the justification for 5,800 residence permits issued in the country in 2008. (Id.)

Asylum seekers will have to show proof of identity to be able to work in Finland while their applications are being reviewed. Applicants will have to at a minimum work with authorities to determine identity; often those seeking asylum arrive without identity documents. Age determination and language analysis will be used in efforts to establish applicants' identities. While extra funding was authorized for the age tests this year, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, Jukka Kindstedt, has said that age testing will also require legislative changes, as using medical tests to determine age could be a violation of fundamental rights. (Id.)

Additional changes will apply to the review process itself. In hopes of expediting the evaluation of applications, cooperation between agencies and centralizing of some aspects of the procedure are being considered. Asylum applications can now be filed at any police station; the proposal includes provisions establishing that only certain police stations would be authorized to receive the paperwork. Sanna Sutter, who drafted the Ministry of the Interior report, said of the proposed changes, “[i]f handling times are shortened, the number of applications could decline, when people find out that there is no point in coming here to collect per diems while waiting for a negative decision that comes soon.” Sutter estimates that an investment of one million euros [about US$1.4 million] in improving the administrative process will result in saving five or six times that much in housing and other expenses. (Id.)