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Government prepares changes to asylum policy

Proposal aimed at reducing unfounded applications

Government prepares changes to asylum policy
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The Finnish government is preparing a number of proposals to put before Parliament in the autumn aimed at reducing the number of unfounded asylum applications.
      The number of people seeking asylum in Finland grew considerably last year and in the early part of this year. In 2008 more than 4,000 people applied for asylum in Finland last year, causing backups at the Finnish Immigration Service, the police, and at refugee reception centres.
The stricter policy will address factors which are seen to make Finland an attractive destination for asylum seekers who do not actually have a need for protection.
      The changes are to be made to rules on family unification, the right of applicants to work while their applications are being processed, and the lengthy processing times themselves.
      Minister of Immigration Astrid Thors (Swedish People’s Party) received a report on the matter drawn up at the Ministry of the Interior on Tuesday. On the basis of that report Thors drew up a list of the most urgent actions to be taken.
Family reunification rules are to be changed. In the future, a person granted a residence permit will have to live in Finland for at least a year before applying to get a family member into Finland. The change would not apply to those granted refugee status - only to those granted asylum on a different basis.
      Family reunification can be rejected if the person applying to get family members into Finland is found to have given false information about family ties in his or her original application.
      In the future a parent will be expected to prove that a child claimed to be a foster child has actually been an integral part of the family, living under the same roof already before arriving in Finland.
      Last year nearly 5,800 people were granted residence permits in Finland on the basis of family ties.
The right to work is also being re-examined.
      In the future, asylum seekers are to be allowed to work only if they can prove their identity.
      At the very least, an applicant will be expected to cooperate in ascertaining his or her identity. Most asylum seekers arriving in Finland do not have identity documents.
The application process is to be speeded up by enhancing cooperation and centralising activities. After the changes only certain police stations will receive applications for asylum. At present, asylum applications can be submitted to any police station.
      The so-called Dublin procedure is to be speeded up. Under the Dublin Treaty, responsibility for processing asylum applications is with the EU member state where the applicant first submitted an asylum application. About a third of asylum applicants in Finland have been to another Dublin Treaty signatory country first.
      “If handling times are shortened, the number of applications could decline, when people find out that there is no point in coming here to collect per diems while waiting for a negative decision that comes soon”, says Sanna Sutter who drafted the report.
Finland is to increase the use of age determination and language analysis to establish the applicant’s real identity.
      Extra funding was granted for age tests at the beginning of the year. Using age testing will also require legislative changes, after Deputy a recent ruling by Parliamentary Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt, who said that under current legislation, medical tests to determine an applicant’s age could violate fundamental rights.
Thors has not calculated how much the changes will cost, but she calculates that investing a million euros into shortening application processing time and expediting the return of rejected applicants would bring savings of EUR 5-6 million in housing and other costs.
      However, she emphasises that administrative courts will need more personnel to make the calculations work.

Previously in HS International Edition:
  YLE News: Finnish police to discontinue age testing of asylum-seekers (28.5.2009)
  Processing times of asylum applications drawn out (27.5.2009)
  Up to a third of “underage” asylum seekers prove to be older (5.5.2009)

Helsingin Sanomat

  3.6.2009 - TODAY
 Government prepares changes to asylum policy

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