Below is the interview we conducted with the Finnish Immigration Service on Asylum matters in Finland. The article was first published in FINNBAY’s print edition in Russian.
How does the Immigration service respond to the increasing number of asylum seekers in Finland?
The Finnish Immigration Service has in recent years prepared itself to the possibility of the numbers of asylum seekers rising by streamlining its processes, enhancing effectiveness, co-operation with other authorities, and training its personnel. Due to the current economic situation it is not possible to hire additional staff.
Do you facilitate previous asylum seekers’ experiences and knowledge for the new asylum seekers?
Finnish Immigration Service and its Asylum Unit employ people with immigrant backgrounds.
Former asylum seekers’ experiences are not used to verify the application of new asylum seekers. However the personnel handling asylum cases are trained amongst others in conducting asylum interviews and drafting decisions by using for example the European Asylum Curriculum (EAC) training modules which are the cornerstone of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). The Service also collaborates with the UNHCR by e.g. training activities, and other organizations and specialists on an ad hoc basis.
Why are Russians the second largest number of asylum seekers in Finland?
The majority of Russian asylum seekers originate from the North Caucasian region (Chechnya and its vicinity).
It is technically not possible to provide statistics of neither the reasons for seeking asylum nor the reasons for granting asylum or other form of protection. The reasons for seeking asylum vary depending on the applicant’s ethnic origin: for example applicants from Chechnya present claims relating to the security and political situation in the area whereas applicants from other parts of Russia claim many other reasons as well, including ethnic and religious background, sexual and gender orientation etc.
What are the main grounds for a positive decision on an asylum application?
It is technically not possible to provide statistics of neither the reasons for seeking asylum nor the reasons for granting asylum or other form of protection. All applications are assessed individually and if the criteria for refugee status or other form of protection are met, a positive decision is made.
This year thus far (31 July 2013) 25 Russian applicants have been granted refugee status (asylum), 10 with subsidiary protection and 4 with residence permit on other grounds, for example employment. In 2012 the respective numbers were 83 (refugee status), 36 (subsidiary protection) and 13 (residence permit on other grounds) and in 2011 60 (refugee status), 55 (subsidiary protection), and 3 (residence permit on other grounds).
Statistics on asylum seekers and decisions per year broken down by nationality are available on our website.
Does an illegal entry to the country have any effects on your grant decisions?
Illegal entry does not prevent a person from seeking asylum nor does it have an effect on the proceedings or the end-result.
Do you have any special treatment of asylum seekers who come from particular countries?
All asylum applications are processed and assessed individually regardless the country of origin.
At the asylum interview, the applicant describes verbally the persecution or other violations of his/her rights in his/her country of origin, and the reasons thereto, as well as any other problems the applicant faced or will face if returned. The applicant is asked to describe in detail the facts related to the case and produce any proof thereof.
During the interview, the case officer tries to determine all the facts that are of significance in the case. The credibility of the applicant’s account is also taken into consideration.
Assessment is always done individually. In the assessment, consideration is given to the applicant’s circumstances in the home country and up-to-date and objective country of origin information.
The decision is based on the applicant’s account, any additional clarifications he/she has provided, and the results of investigations carried out by authorities in the case. The so-called benefit of the doubt principle is also applied. The material facts gathered are then compared to the criteria for obtaining asylum, subsidiary protection or humanitarian protection. If the criteria for any of them are met, a positive decision is made.
Do you have particular themes or topics (for example, a journalist being prosecuted by writing about Chechnya) that qualify an automatic asylum to Finland?
Asylum cases are assessed as a whole which means that no one factor is usually decisive. As all cases are different, and the examination and assessment are extensive, the outcome is never as straightforward as in the example.
The conditions specified in the Aliens Act for the granting of asylum are the same as those contained in the Geneva Convention on Refugees, to which Finland has made a commitment.
In relation to granting asylum to those who are persecuted for political matters, how do you assess their situation?
An asylum seeker will be refused asylum, subsidiary and humanitarian protection if there is no danger of persecution or serious harm in some other part of his/her home country – unless it is unreasonable to expect that the applicant settle in another area. The applicant’s personal circumstances and the circumstances in that part of the country are taken into account.
Finland acts in accordance with the so called non-refoulment principle which prohibits deporting or returning a foreigner into a country where the person in question is in danger of a death sentence, torture or other treatment violating human dignity.
If Edward Snowden or Mikhail Khodorkovsky were to seek asylum from Finland, would they have the chance to receive a positive decision?
It is not possible to determine the outcome of an asylum proceeding beforehand. In addition, all asylum applications are confidential which means that it is not possible to comment on individual asylum cases or even acknowledge their existence.
How do you assess the facts in relation to the background of an asylum seeker?
The assessment is based on the material facts of the case. The material facts are gathered and determined by interviewing the applicant, and researching country of origin information and any other information available in the case.