RIGHT TO REMAIN! Statement of the Right to Remain demonstration to the Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo

The Right to Remain demonstration on Tuesday 10.12. by the Ministry of the Interior in Helsinki demands that all asylum seekers who came to Finland before 2017 receive residence permits. As has been shown several times, the Finnish asylum system didn’t treat fairly those asylum seekers who came during the crisis of European border politics 2015 and 2016. Many have waited more than 4 years for a decision on their future or are forced to live as undocumented migrants. Legalisation through a special, temporary law should be introduced immediately.

Since 2015, the tightening of the asylum policy in Finland has resulted in both a humanitarian disaster and an administrative deadlock. Up to 10 000 of the asylum seekers who arrived in Finland during 2015–2016 remain stuck in the workings of the Finnish or European asylum apparatus. There are approximately 8 000 asylum seekers with negative decisions living in the reception centres.[1] Many have also been thrown out of reception centers and have become undocumented. They live outside the society without any certainty, in endless waiting, exclusion and at risk of developing mental health problems.

At the moment, the government is not providing solutions that would guarantee the realisation of fundamental rights. The best solution to this inhuman situation is an unconditional legalisation of those asylum seekers with negative decisions who came to Finland during 2015 and 2016. There are several reasons why this is the only feasible solution.

Firstly, it has been proven that the current situation was created by the administrative and political decision of the Finnish state. For example, by the spring of 2017, the recognition rate of Iraqi citizens applying for asylum had decreased by over a half in just two years.[2] A key explanatory factor was the tightened policy of the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri). For example, the danger posed by similar events was deemed less significant to the applicant in 2017 than before.[3] Migri has also admitted that especially during 2015 and 2016 a lot of mistakes were made in the asylum process.[4] By the spring of 2016, the asylum policy had been tightened dramatically by abolishing residence permits based on humanitarian protection, tightening the conditions for family reunification, and weakening legal aid for asylum seekers. An investigation has shown that these reforms have weakened the possibilities for legal protection of asylum seekers.[5] This means that it has not been possible to rectify in courts the mistakes Migri has previously made. Most recently the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) passed a judgement on Finland breaking the two key articles of the European Convention of Human Rights: the right to life and the prohibition of torture.[6] The decision gives further proof that the policy changes adopted by Finland are politically, juridically and morally intolerable.

Secondly, the uncertainty puts a serious pressure on the mental health and well-being of the failed asylum seekers. The process is always very stressful as people face insecurity about their future. Long waiting time can decrease asylum seekers’ sense of control in their lives.[7] A recent study has found out that 40% of asylum seekers who had just arrived to Finland suffered from significant depression and anxiety symptoms.[8] Because of the current policies, many asylum seekers end up living undocumented. These undocumented people are an especially vulnerable group because they are affected by inadequate health care, poor living conditions, homelessness, and poverty.[9]

Thirdly, it is not only morally wrong, but also practically impossible for the government to solve the situation through forced deportations. The number of deportations is still very limited in relation to the number of negative decisions, especially concerning Iraqi and Afghani citizens: in 2017, the police escorted 47 Afghan citizens to Afghanistan and 139 Iraqi citizens to Iraq, according to the National Police Board. During 2019 police has returned 46 persons to Iraq.[10]

Fourthly, the current mechanisms for legalisation does not work. The temporary residence permit (the so-called B-permit) for those not deported for technical reasons has been almost impossible to receive since the legislative change in 2015.[11] As a result, a proper mechanism for the regularisation of undocumented migrants is missing from the Finnish context. This change was particularly dramatic because it meant that reception centres were obliged to evict people with negative decisions who refused voluntary return, and whose removal from the country was otherwise impeded. They were thus left without reception centre accommodation, health services, and reception funds. Between September 2016 and end of 2018, the reception services terminated access for more than 1 500 asylum seekers who had received negative decisions.[12] As temporary residence permits are no longer granted, work, study and family-based permits are the most important means by which a person who has received a negative decision can regularise their status. However, undocumented migrants face several difficulties regarding these possibilities. The Finnish Immigration Service enforces very strict passport requirements: for example, work or marriage permits are generally not granted to people who do not have a passport of their own. Another problem is that it is often impossible to submit an application for a residence permit safely. The Finnish Immigration Service informs the police about undocumented persons who are coming to identify themselves for a residence permit application. Migri also often interprets applications for different residence permits from failed asylum seekers as attempts to circumvent immigration provisions.

Finland has thus created a bureaucratic mill that produces endless waiting, marginalisation and mental health problems. The policy options concerning the situation of asylum seekers with negative decisions are not choices between idealistic and realistic solutions. The most human answer—giving residence permits—would also be the most practical and economical. There are several issues in the asylum and residence permit system that should be remedied, but future reforms are unlikely to help those failed asylum seeker who arrived years ago.

We demand that all failed asylum seekers and undocumented migrants who came to Finland before 2017 are legalised through a special, temporary law. Immediately and unconditionally!

Free Movement

Right to Live

Asylum seekers living in Tampere and Helsinki

  1. IL 26.1.2019, YLE 21.9.2019
  2. In the first six months of 2015, 81 percent of the asylum decisions concerning Iraqi citizens (excluding uninvestigated and closed applications) were positive, but in the spring of 2017, only 37 percent of the decisions were positive.
  3. See Saarikkomäki & al. 2018.
  4. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-10636441
  5. Lepola, Outi, 2018, Turvapaikanhakijat oikeusavun asiakkaina.
  6. The case of N.A. v. Finland, The European Court of Human Rights.
  7. Castaneda & al. 2018, Pakolaisten mielenterveyden tukeminen Suomessa: Paloma-käsikirja, Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos, s. 53.
  8. Skogberg & al. (2019) Turvapaikanhakijoiden terveys ja hyvinvointi Tutkimus Suomeen vuonna 2018 tulleista turvapaikanhakijoista, Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos.
  9. Paloma-käsikirja, Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos.
  10. AL 18.11.2019
  11. Since 2015, when removal from the country is impossible, it has only been possible to obtain a temporary permit when cooperating with the authorities, and it becomes evident that a return is still impossible. Before July 2015, asylum seekers who had not been granted a residence permit, but whom Finland was unable to deport, were given a temporary residence permit. These permits were called B-permits. If deportation was still impossible after two years, these people might receive a regular residence permit, and could reside permanently in Finland.
  12. Migri 7.12.2019