Interior Minister Paula Risikko confirmed on Tuesday that a flight taking rejected asylum seekers back to Afghanistan carried only adults, quashing rumours that it had carried children and pregnant women. Police had taken an Afghan family into custody ahead of the flight, with the intention of deporting them, but they were freed on Sunday night when police realised their appeals had not yet been heard.
Risikko told Yle that the repatriation process had gone smoothly on both the Helsinki and Kabul ends of the flight.
"I'm pleased that we have an agreement with Afghanistan, which I signed. Individuals who arrive there are taken in hand, with the help of authorities and the IOM," she said, referencing the UN's International Organization for Migration.
"The IOM looks after these returnees as they settle down in their homeland, and Finland pays the IOM for this," she said.
Police: Preventive detention was a mistake
Meanwhile authorities have admitted that as of Friday a family including a pregnant mother was due to be deported to Kabul. Their child was taken from a school in Asikkala, south-central Finland in the middle of the school day on Friday, and the whole family was taken into a custody unit at the Joutseno reception centre, some 200 km to the east.
Police confirm that their deportations were suspended on Sunday, and they were released.
On Tuesday evening police said that their repatriation had been suspended when it became clear that their deportation decision had not been finalised. An appeal was filed with Helsinki Administrative Court on February 21, and is still being processed.
Risikko had not heard of this case when she was interviewed by Yle on Tuesday afternoon.
"This is the first time I've heard of this, so I can't comment," she said.
She notes that the interior minister is not automatically informed of the identity of deportees.
"It is a secrecy issue. Since there had been publicity about this incident [the Monday flight], I wanted to know about it, and the police said: 10 people, no pregnant women, no children."
Family may be sent back later
If and when the family's appeal is rejected, they will then be sent back to Afghanistan. The decision has been widely criticised, both within Finland and from international groups. Last year Finland changed the guidelines for asylum claim processing, allowing more applications to be rejected and more deportations to take place.
Risikko said that decisions by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) should be trusted, as the courts have rarely changed them.
"When a final decision comes, which has been tested at all judicial levels, then the authorities have a responsibility to act. And even at the point we consider whether the person is in condition to travel," she said.
Risikko declined to say whether Afghanistan is a sufficiently safe place to send people, but adds that pregnancy should place restrictions on travel.
"In each case, one must always look carefully at the individual situation. Whether one is in condition to fly is evaluated. After all we do have regulations about when pregnant women can fly," Risikko said.