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Officials face nearly 9,000 asylum appeals, rise in decisions referred for review

The Finnish Immigration Service is facing an unprecedented situation, with nearly 9,000 asylum decisions being challenged in court. So far this year, nearly one-third of asylum decisions handed down have been overturned or sent back for review by the Helsinki Administrative Court.

TURVAPAIKANHAKIJA ANONYYMI KAHVILLA SATEESSA JYVÄSKYLÄSSÄ
Image: Yle / Jarkko Riikonen

Finland’s administrative courts have been working hard to dismantle long queues of asylum seekers who have lodged complaints over their asylum decisions. Officials in four administrative courts across the country are currently dealing with more than 8,100 complaints. On top of that the Supreme Administrative Court is grappling with over 600 asylum cases.

So far, many complaints filed at the Helsinki Administrative Court have either been sent back to immigration authorities for review or the court has overturned previous decisions by immigrations officials.

The administrative courts attributed the increase in recommendations to review previous decisions to the fact that complainants have presented new information. The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, has also compiled its own records and also found an increase in flawed decisions.

By the end of January the Helsinki Administrative Court was the only such court in Finland to have heard asylum seeker appeals. Last year, such appeals amounted to more than 10,400.

The Helsinki court had been able to begin dismantling the backlog of cases by transferring half of pending cases to sister courts in eastern Finland, northern Finland and Turku.

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Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Since the beginning of 2017, the Helsinki Administrative Court alone received 1,600 complaints, 500 of which were later transferred to other courts. During that time, the court settled 1,300 cases, while the other courts have processed just under 300.

Altogether the other administrative courts received 900 new complaints up to the beginning of February, half of them going to the eastern Finland Administrative Court.

One complaint and court decision may involve multiple persons, for example in cases involving families.

Meanwhile, immigration authorities are yet to hand down decisions on another 3,600 asylum applications.

More decisions overturned or sent back for review

Two years ago the Helsinki Administrative Court upheld more than 80 percent of the asylum decisions handed down by immigration authorities. The number also includes decisions that were not investigated or cases that lapsed. In 2016, the court did not alter outcomes in 76 percent of cases; at the beginning of this year, the corresponding proportion was just over 70 percent.

However the percentage of cases where the court overturned Migri decisions or sent them back for review increased from 18 percent in 2015 to 24 percent last year and just shy of 30 percent during the first few months of this year.

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Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Migri said that its own records show that decisions are mainly sent back when new information is required.

"One common explanation is that the applicant has converted to Christianity. This accounts for more than 70 percents of all requests for further investigation," said Tirsa Forsell, Migri asylum seeker unit director.

"During an interview, the person may not have mentioned it, or only mentioned it later on. He or she may have new evidence, for example a christening ceremony, or active participation in parish activities," Forsell added.

The second most common reason for requesting a review of Migri decisions is a difference in interpretation of the facts. In such cases the administrative court has weighed factors such as applicants’ country of origin or applicants’ circumstances, unlike the immigration service.

Increase in flawed decisions

Meanwhile Migri’s examination of its record of decisions indicates an increase in the number of flawed asylum rulings made. Last year the Supreme Administrative Court resolved close to 780 asylum-related cases, overturning or returning just under 12 percent for review.

During the first three months of this year, the number of asylum decisions that were changed or sent back for further processing was nearly nine percent, compared to less than two percent in 2015. Applicants must first receive permission to appeal decisions in the Supreme Administrative Court.

Since January this year, the SAC has processed roughly 670 complaints. Once a matter has been settled by this court, asylum seekers may then take their case to the European Court of Human Rights and the UN’s Committee against Torture to be heard.

Asylum seekers are not the only ones resorting to the administrative courts over perceived wrongful decisions. Migri has also turned to the legal system over some decisions.

"With the removal of the cover of humanitarian protection regulations we have very few precedents from the Supreme Administrative Court. We need more examples to show how to apply secondary protection, now that we can no longer resort to humanitarian protection," Forsell added.

"[There are also] different factual interpretations, in other words, the Administrative Court and Migri have interpreted geographical information differently. These should be decided by the Supreme Administrative Court."

Many complainants still at reception centres

A majority asylum seekers living in reception centres, private accommodations and underage asylum seeker units have already had their asylum applications rejected, and are awaiting decisions on their appeals.

Roughly one in five residents of such facilities is still awaiting a decision from immigration authorities. Some 1,400 have been granted asylum or residence permits, however they are yet to be relocated to permanent residences. Since last autumn close to 390 rejected asylum seekers have left reception centres.

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Image: Yle Uutisgrafiikka

Since the beginning of 2015 Migri has handed down more than 39,000 asylum decisions; some 17,000 have been negative. More than 11,000 applications have either lapsed or not have not been followed up. Just under 11,000 applicants have been granted asylum in Finland.

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