Markus Himanen
What Happens To Asylum Seekers Who Get A Negative Decision?

Before July 2015, asylum seekers who did not get a residence permit, but whom Finland could not deport were given a temporary permit for a year at a time due to the postponement of deportation. These so-called B-permits gave many people a chance to study or work in Finland. If, after a year, deportation was still not possible, the person got another temporary permit. After two years, the person could get a normal residence permit and settle in Finland permanently.

The chances for getting an official status after a negative asylum decision were significantly weakened last summer, when a decision was made that an asylum seeker can only get a B-permit if they cooperate with officials in their own expulsion process, and returning is not possible despite of this. The criteria for cooperation stated in the law are vague.

The change is particularly radical, since reception centers were given the right to remove people with negative permission from the centers, if they were not willing to return to their country of origin. Since not all people who the police can’t force to return are not willing to return voluntarily, there are now more and more undocumented people in Finland, who are outside the reach of basic social security, and who the police can’t expel.

The timing of the law reform was also dramatic. B-permits were given particularly to people from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia – that is, to citizens of countries with drawn-out conflicts. These are also the countries from which most asylum seekers coming to Finland in autumn 2015 were from. Deportation to these countries is difficult because the countries are reluctant to receive the citizens who are forced to come back, despite increasing pressure from Finland and other EU countries.

What have been the immediate consequences of the reform? When the law was being reformed, there was no discussion on what happens to the asylum seekers who have had a B-permit for a year or two when the new legislation comes into force. In the Free Movement Network, we have now heard of several cases in which people have suddenly become undocumented after living in Finland for two years with a B-permit. Many had started studying but are now left with uncertainty.

In the spring 2016, the government removed the category for residence based on humanitarian protection. This means that the people who have got a humanitarian permit for several years before the new legislation comes into force, cannot get a permanent residence permit after their permit runs out. So those people who have not new grounds for a permit based on work or marriage, for example, now run the risk of expulsion or living undocumented after their temporary permit runs out.

When the law reform was passed, the Constitutional Law Committee of the Finnish Parliament commented that even if the person is not entitled to the services within the reception system, they will not lose their right to necessary social services and adequate care, since these are guaranteed in the Finnish constitution. However, in the one case known to The Free Movement Network where a person has, after being removed from a reception center, requested help from municipal social services, they have not received help.

The large majority of the asylum applications that were filed during last year are now, in early summer 2016, still not processed, but over 500 Iraqi and Afghani applicants have already received a negative decision. The number doesn’t include the Dublin cases, or cases where the process has been interrupted for one reason or another. Deportation to both Iraq and Afghanistan is problematic. There have been many who have returned voluntarily during the asylum process, but this doesn’t mean that a significant number of the people with negative decision will return. Many who returned to Iraq during the autumn and winter will try to enter Europe again after the situation in the country has gotten worse.

What will happen to the thousands of people who come from countries with an on-going crisis, if they get a negative decision? Will they end up in the streets? The government has talked about opening a “return center” in Uusimaa in the autumn 2016. People who get a negative decision would be moved to center that would be something between a reception and detention center. People living in this kind of a center would have the right to move freely, but the centers would have minimal services and a strict policy for registration and check-ins.

It seems that the government’s goal is to make living in the return centers so difficult that people will choose to return “voluntarily” to the crisis areas.