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Decision-making Policy and Interpretations of the Finnish Immigration Service on International Protection Have Become Stricter

Researchers from the Faculty of Law of the University of Turku, The Institute for Human Rights of Åbo Akademi University, and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman have conducted an empirical study on the changes that have taken place in the decisions regarding international protection. In the internationally unique study, the researchers compared the decisions of the Finnish Immigration Service on asylum seekers in 2015 and 2017.

The data from 2015 represents the period before there was a momentary, considerable increase in the number of applications for and decisions on international protection, and before amendments were made to the Aliens Act. The second time period represents the new, normalised situation where the number of applications and decisions has decreased significantly.

– The decision-making policy and interpretations of the Finnish Immigration Service have become stricter between the two periods. The legal position of the people applying for international protection seems to have become significantly weaker, which cannot be explained with the amendments to the preconditions for granting international protection in the Aliens Act. No significant changes have taken place in the applicant profile between the periods, says Professor of International Law Elina Pirjatanniemi from Åbo Akademi University.

It is visible in the data in many ways that the principles of interpretation have become stricter. In 2017, the Finnish Immigration Service granted significantly less international protection than in the earlier period. From the point of view of an individual, the change was clearest in the way that the Finnish Immigration Service assessed the fear of violence expressed by the applicant. In 2015, the Finnish Immigration Service considered the expressed fear of violence to be justified in most of the decisions, but in 2017, only in exceptional cases.

There was no change between the two periods in how often the applicants reported infringements, but in the 2017 period, the Finnish Immigration Service considered them to be believable considerably less frequently. A similar change has happened in the Finnish Immigration Service’s estimates on whether the previous infringements, such as violence or kidnappings, experienced by the asylum seeker should be considered as an indication that the person is in danger of being a target again in the future.

– In 2015, previous infringements were regularly considered to predict a risk of renewed infringements. Instead, the previous infringements experienced by the applicant were only exceptionally considered to be a predictable risk for future infringements in the 2017 period, says Professor in Sociology of Law Anne Alvesalo-Kuusi from the University of Turku.

Official Policies Must Not Influence the Fulfilment of Basic and Human Rights

The changes that were detected in the study can be considered as worrying both for the fulfilment of basic and human rights as well as for the Finnish constitutional state. Decisions on international protection must always be based on individual consideration.

– Decision-making that concerns the rights of the asylum seekers involves especially significant individual basic and human rights: in the end, the right to life and freedom from inhuman treatment. Therefore, the fulfilment of fundamental rights in a state governed by law should not depend on the general interpretation policies of the authorities and on the possible political and administrative steering influencing these policies, the researchers sum up.

In addition to Elina Pirjatanniemi and Anne Alvesalo-Kuusi, the research group included Doctor of Social Sciences Elsa Saarikkomäki, Master of Law Nea Oljakka, Doctoral Candidate Johanna Vanto and Professor of Public Law Juha Lavapuro.

Decisions of the Finnish Immigration Service concerning international protection in 2015–2017. Pilot study on the positive and negative decisions regarding Iraqi citizens aged 18–34. The research article has been published in Finnish on the web pages of the Faculty of Law of the University of Turku: http://www.utu.fi/en/units/law/research/research-papers-and-reports/Pages/home.aspx