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Refugee assistance NGO chief concerned about Finland's deportations

The head of a local NGO that assists refugees in Finland says she is concerned that officials may be deporting migrants who have yet to receive final decisions regarding their asylum applications. She said some migrants who've decided to return to their home countries may not have fully understood the complex asylum application and appeals process in Finland.

Pia Lindfors, acting Executive Director of the Refugee Advice Centre.
Image: Yle Svenska / Jessica Stoltzmann

Pia Lindfors, who's the acting executive director of the Refugee Advice Centre, a Finnish NGO that gives refugees legal help - says that she has started to wonder if the way migrants are being dealt with in Finland is working as it should.

Over the past couple of years the Finnish Immigration Service has processed tens of thousands of asylum applicants from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia who, for the most part, arrived in 2015.

Thousands of migrants here continue to wait for decisions about whether they will be able to stay in Finland. The wait - as well as an increase in deportations - appear to be taking their toll.

More than a week ago dozens of migrants, mostly Iraqi nationals, began a demonstration in downtown Helsinki, saying that they do not want to be forced to return to their home countries because they are too dangerous. The demonstration campsite, now located at the Helsinki Railway Square, began its tenth day on Monday.

Long and uncertain appeals process

"Right now we can only try to calm people down, we are perplexed ourselves and wondering what's going on - strange things happen with deportations," Lindfors says.

She also voiced concern about asylum applicants who also had their first appeals rejected, because it's still possible for them to appeal again to the Supreme Court.

telttoja ja ihmisiä Kiasman aukiolla
Dozens of asylum seekers and migrants have demonstrated in downtown Helsinki for more than a week now, saying that they do not want to be deported to war zones. Image: Antti Haanpää / Yle

But if that process is initiated, the applicant is then officially considered "paperless," and loses the right to remain in Finland. The final appeal process is also long and uncertain, and during that period the applicant could be deported at any time.

"The problem right now is that the police may not be checking sufficiently if the Supreme Court has made a decision - or when they may make a decision - about whether deportation orders should be nullified or not. We know of clients that have left the country and then received notice that their deportation orders were cancelled two days later," Lindfors says.

Some don't understand how system works

This should not be happening, she says, because in such instances applicants should be able to find out if a pending court decision could soon change their deportation status. Also, deportees' legal counsel should be notified about deportation decisions in a timely way.

"A few (migrants) have had completely clear reasons to be granted asylum or international protection, but chose to return (to their home countries) so-called voluntarily," Lindfors says. "The problem is that many of them don't really know how the system works."

Because the system is so complicated, Lindfors says, there is a risk that migrants aren't receiving enough - and the right kind - of information to make informed decisions.

"People get a little information here and there and then have to make decisions based on that. It largely depends on how much information officials give to them - and what kind of information they're giving," Lindfors says.

The Refugee Advice Centre is a NGO based in Finland which assists refugees and foreigners with legal help and advice. Last year the organisation assisted some 2,500 clients, many of them asylum seekers.

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