Finland to start sending asylum-seekers back to Northern Iraq
One Afghan repatriated to Kabul
The Directorate of Immigration plans to start repatriating asylum-seekers from the north of Iraq back to their home areas.
Previously, Iraqis seen to lack a need for protection have been given temporary residence permits at the very least, because repatriation has been seen as technically impossible for logistical reasons, such as the lack of a reliable air link with the region.
The directorate has now determined that it is possible to send people back to three Kurdish provinces of the north of Iraq: Dohuk, Arbil, and Suleimania.
The directorate decided on the new practice this week. No decisions on repatriating any Iraqis have been made yet.
The new practice could lead to the departure of many Iraqi citizens from Finland. Esko Repo of the directorate’s asylum unit says that a large portion of Iraqi asylum seekers in Finland come from the Kurdish regions.
Last year 225 Iraqis sought asylum in Finland. The Directorate of Immigration granted temporary residence permits to 81 of them. Under the new rules they might have been sent back.
Repo emphasises that Northern Iraqis will be allowed to stay if they have a special need. "Each case is assessed separately", he insists.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also said that repatriation to the north of Iraq is possible under certain circumstances. Sweden and Norway have already sent people back there.
The directorate has also changed its attitude toward residents of three provinces of Southern Iraq: Muthanna, Dhi-Qar, and Najaf; residents of those areas are not necessarily seen to be in danger in their home provinces.
However, they are not being sent back, as returning people to the areas would require transporting them through dangerous areas, such as the capital Baghdad.
Last year, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia were countries from which asylum-seekers were granted temporary residence permits even if they were not in need of protection at home, because repatriation was not seen to be technically feasible.
Finland began granting temporary, class B residence permits three years ago. More than 600 people had been granted such permits, the majority of them came from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
Some groups have complained that holders of class B permits are in a legal limbo. There is no legislation on their access to income support, employment possibilities, or school.
Repo says that the number of holders of class B residence permits will decrease significantly.
The Directorate of Immigration will grant ordinary residence based on a need for protection to Iraqis, Afghans, and Somalis who come from areas where repatriation has been seen as impossible.
After a gap of several years, police sent back the first Afghan asylum seeker to the capital Kabul a couple of weeks ago. No Somalis have been returned, because court appeals have been made over decisions to send them back.
The number of asylum-seekers entering Finland continues to decline.
In January and February this year there were more than 40 per cent fewer asylum seekers than a year earlier.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland to start repatriating people to Afghanistan and possibly Iraq (4.11.2007)
More children seeking asylum in Finland (25.2.2007)
Asylum applications down by one third (29.1.2007)
Fewer Iraqis seek asylum in Finland (18.1.2007)
Directorate of immigration
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)