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Finland scolded by Amnesty International in annual report - asylum, domestic violence policies questioned

Human rights group Amnesty International has rapped Finland for its asylum and deportation policies, shortcomings in domestic violence policy and other issues.

Sisäpihan piikkilanka-aitaa.
File photo exterior of the Metsälä detention centre in Helsinki, where Finland houses individuals who have received deportation orders. Image: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

Amnesty International said that Finland's adoption of stricter asylum policy in recent years has endangered people's legal rights, saying that the country's revisions to asylum procedures continued to affect asylum seekers negatively.

"Many changes in the law introduced in 2016, including restrictions of the right to free legal representation and reduced time frames for appeals, continued to affect refugees' and asylum-seekers' rights," Amnesty said in the report.

"The likelihood of asylum-seekers being forcibly returned to countries where they might be at risk of human rights violations (refoulement) was increased. The government had not evaluated the combined impact of these changes by the end of the year," the report continued.

The group also called into question Finland's policies surrounding refugee family reunification, forcible returns of individuals to Afghanistan and the detention of unaccompanied child migrants.

"Contrary to international standards, the authorities continued to detain unaccompanied children, and families with children, based on their immigration status. There was no time limit on detaining families with children. In February, 'directed residence' was introduced as a new form of deprivation of liberty for asylum-seekers and migrants. It meant that asylum-seekers had to report to a reception centre up to four times a day," the report reads.

Group calls out Finland's LGBT policies

The human rights advocacy organisation also noted several other areas of Finland's policies that it found questionable.

Amnesty International said that Finland's legislation concerning legal gender recognition "continued to violate the rights of transgender people."

"[Transgender people] could obtain legal gender recognition only if they agreed to sterilization, were diagnosed with a mental disorder, and were aged over 18. Despite an April decision by the European Court of Human Rights condemning sterilization, the government did not consider amending the law," Amnesty International said in its report.

Lack of programmes to combat violence against women

The group said that while NGOs and state institutions in Finland were working to combat violence against girls and women, it said they were "systematically under-resourced."

"Neither adequate and accessible walk-in services nor long-term support services for survivors of violence were in place. Existing legislation did not sufficiently protect institutionalized or hospitalized individuals from sexual violence," the group said.

Amnesty noted that in 2017 the nation saw the opening of its first sexual assault support centre in Helsinki, but pointed out that it was the only such centre in the country, and that Finland lacked a nationwide support network service which could provide long-term support for victims of all forms of sexual violence.

Additionally, the group said: "In January, an Administrative Committee on Coordination on violence against women, as required by the Istanbul Convention, started its work to enhance the implementation of the Convention and facilitate work to prevent violence against women. However, neither women’s nor victims’ support organizations were represented in the Committee and it was also inadequately resourced."

Finland's privacy laws and conscription issues

Amnesty noted draft legislation published by Finland in April of 2017 which enabled the acquisition of "information on threats to national security by giving military and civilian intelligence agencies permission to conduct communications surveillance without any requirement for a link to a specific criminal offence."

The human rights group also mentioned Finland's policy towards conscientious objectors, which it said remained "punitive" to those who refuse to carry out alternative, non-military, civilian service.

It said conscientious objectors are required to carry out 347 days of civilian service, which is more than double the 165 days of the shortest military service period.

The human rights organisation levelled the criticisms in the 2017/2018 edition of its yearly report (PDF download link), which it says "shines a light on the state of the world's human rights during 2017."

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