UN Refugee Agency Criticises Draft Finnish Aliens Law

UNHCR regional director, Gary G. Troeller, asks why so very few are given refugee status.

UNHCR regional director, Gary G. Troeller, asks why so very few are given refugee status.
STOCKHOLM. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR sees much room for improvement in the contested draft for a new Finnish Aliens Law. In an interview with Helsingin Sanomat in Stockholm, Gary G. Troeller, who heads the organisation’s operations in the Nordic and Baltic countries, gave his views on the problematic points in the draft.

Last week the Aliens Law was left lying on the table of the Finnish Government as Interior Minister Ville Itälä took a one week’s time-out in order to iron out differences between the coalition partners.

Troeller is concerned about the «safe country of origin» concept. «No country anywhere in the world is always safe for all people in all circumstances. An applicant who is entitled to asylum might come from an industrialised Western country. That is unlikely, but possible.»

He says that every asylum application should be carefully studied, even if the applicant were for example a Swede. «There must be no lists saying: no-one from this place, no-one from that place.»

Troeller does not approve of the part of the draft that states that an asylum seeker can be turned back if he during his trip has stopped in another country considered safe for just a few days – or even for a few hours at an airport.

According to the proposal, fast-track processing can be carried out in a week. Troeller emphasises that such a time frame is very labour-intensive, if the asylum applicants are to get the legal aid they need and be able to lodge an appeal before the expulsion is carried out.

Of all of the negative decisions made by the Finnish authorities on asylum applications in recent years, 60-80% have involved fast-track processing. «It should used be only in special cases, not for everyone», says Troeller.

A special case is according to Troeller one in which somebody is blatantly trying to take advantage of the asylum system. A clear indication would be if an applicant refuses to cooperate with officials, or states for example interesting work opportunities as the reason for his or her arrival.

The fast-track procedure is a possibility in such manifestly unfounded cases. Troeller suggests that, conversely, there should be a fast-track procedure also for those arriving from obviously refugee-producing countries.

UNHCR opposes the idea that not having proper travel and identity documents would be a reason to question an applicant’s need for asylum. Troeller asks how likely it would be for a refugee to be able to flee with a valid passport, if the departure takes place at night, with soldiers knocking on the door.

Troeller says that the Nordic Countries are keeping a very high credibility threshold. «The burden of proof is great. How can you prove that you have been tortured?»

Troeller is quite aware of the fact that the asylum system is being abused. As remedy Troeller proposes the implementation of a decent immigration policy for Europe. If there is no other way to get into Europe, a would-be immigrant is forced to try to sneak in among the crowd of asylum seekers.

«And then people start to think that there are no genuine refugees,» says Troeller. He emphasises that the numerous wars and conflicts in the world are creating millions of real refugees.
«We certainly understand that there has to be a balance between control and the right to apply for asylum,» he says, and notes that at the Tampere EU summit, Finland made it clear that the right to apply for asylum is a primary right.

In Finland, refugee status is granted to less than one of 100 asylum seekers. The figure is the lowest among the OECD countries. Troeller asks whether Finland now is ready to act according to the Tampere guidelines in balancing control and the need for protection. He believes Finland should be more generous in granting refugee status.

However, Troeller concedes that Finland comes out good in comparison if one includes among the decisions those who have been given a residence permit because of a need for protection. Then the percentage numbers rise considerably. Nevertheless, Troeller feels that the wrong political signal is being sent. «That could make people think that a rich and prosperous country only has the resources to allow those who have managed to reach the country to stay there.»

Troeller praises Finland for the number of refugees it takes under its quota system.

Helsingin Sanomat 16-12-2002. Oversettelse ved UNHCR.