Veera Kaleva & Siiri Simpanen
Two stories about the asylum interview

Both legal changes and the tightened policy lines of the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) have weakened the legal position of asylum seekers, and emphasised the significance of volunteer networks. The quality of asylum interviews (the time when asylum seekers can present their case to the authorities) has also suffered because of these developments. To make visible these problems, the Turvapaikkapuhuttelu (Asylum interview) comic was born.

In 2016, asylum seekers’ legal protections were weakened: the government restricted legal help in the beginning of the asylum process, shortened times of complaint, and limited the rewards payable to lawyers. These cuts to legal help combined with an overload of cases at Migri have significantly influenced the process and the quality of asylum interviews. The interview is one of the most important phases in the asylum process, and yet many asylum seekers are not able to recount everything that is relevant during their interview. Often, asylum seekers don’t know the mechanisms of Finnish official proceedings, their own rights, or the criteria under which their testimony is evaluated.

Asylum decisions are significantly based on an assessment of the ‘validity’ of an asylum seeker’s story, as presented during the interview. Because the interview forms the basis of the asylum decisions, asylum seekers should present all grounds and evidence for their need of protection. Academic research has shown how bad interview techniques can increase problems arising from the traumas undergone by asylum seekers. Also Migri’s own internal investigations have concluded that the manner in which the interviews have been conducted has been problematic, due to time pressures and inexperienced staff.

Because of a lack of official help and weakened legal protections, the significance of networks of voluntary supporters and self-organized immigrants cannot be understated. Their roles have been emphasised in this struggle for fundamental and human rights. No one takes responsibility for the entire legal situation or for the life situations in which asylum seekers find themselves. Different official parties are responsible for different parts of the process. Voluntary help has thus been needed to assess the situation as a whole.

During the asylum process, volunteers help to find trustworthy lawyers, support legal advisors’ work, deal with officials, act as supporting persons in meetings with the authorities, and assist during the interview process in the immigration office. Additionally, the volunteers’ work has helped many people who have received negative decisions to subsequently legalise their status, for example with work or studies. Volunteers are often the only ones who help with searching for work, applying for study places, and acquiring residence permits.

The Asylum interview comic was born out of a need to produce easily accessible information about the problems of asylum processes. The comic is based on Free Movement’s years of experience on counselling migrants. It was made in cooperation with comic artist Jiipu Uusitalo, and as part of a training project for volunteers funded by Kansan Sivistysrahasto .

Veera Kaleva and Siiri Simpanen are Free Movement Network activists from Tampere.

Translation: Kimmo Koistinen