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Report calls on Finland to adopt quality control for asylum interpreter services

A new immigration service report has called for systematic monitoring of interpreter services for asylum seekers and special support for families.

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File photo. Image: Toni Määttä / Yle
Yle News

A review of asylum decision-making practices at the Finnish Immigration Service Migri has highlighted the need for improved monitoring of the quality of interpreter services as well as for special support for unaccompanied minors and families involved in the asylum process.

The report was conducted by the immigration service at the behest of Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen and concluded that there might be problems in interpreter services that could affect the outcome of some asylum applications.

Mykkänen commissioned the report in May after the agency came under intense scrutiny over some of its more controversial asylum decisions relating to families and minors in particular as well as the asylum interview process.

At the time, the minister said that it might be necessary for some asylum seekers to have new interviews with Migri officials and added that several organisations had expressed concern over the situation and called for an external review of Migri's practices.

Currently there are no means of systematically monitoring the quality and accuracy of interpreter services provided by Migri. The report released on Thursday called for this area to be developed, given that high quality interpreter services are especially critical in the asylum process and could affect the outcomes. Among other measures, it proposed the recruitment of special interpreters responsible for quality control.

The report also advised that immigration authorities should develop processes to better inform applicants so that they have a fair understanding of what might happen during the process. It called for applicants to be provided information on what is expected of them as well as their rights and responsibilities.

Special support needed for families with children

The report stressed that families seeking asylum have special needs and require special support.

It noted that as early as the reception stage, officials should pay attention to needs of unaccompanied minors as well as families with infants.

In early June, Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman Maija Sakslin criticised Migri for its deportation policies, which she said do not safeguard children’s rights. She also condemned the agency’s practice of not separately considering the cases of children born after officials decided to deport other family members.

The Migri report also stressed the importance of cooperation with other officials. It said that the agency should combine other relevant information from the Finnish Border Guard, police, the asylum unit and reception centres.

The analysis proposed that registration processes be streamlined so that vital information about applicants is recorded even during periods when applications peak. The writers also highlighted the need for the use of automation to develop analytics to help evaluate the number of applications and decisions.

Migri also proposed concentrating the start of application processes at only a few police stations across the country. These police departments would therefore specialise in asylum seeker application cases.

Separate analysis by Justice Ministry

Meanwhile the Justice Ministry under minister Antti Häkkänen will conduct a separate analysis of how well Migri officials have upheld practices relating to legal aid and safeguarding the rights of the individual. Häkkänen said that report should be completed by the end of this year.

The background to that inquiry is a 2016 amendment to the Aliens Act which limits the right of the Supreme Administrative Court to hear cases already decided by Finland's administrative courts. At the same time, the wages of asylum seekers' legal aid representatives were fixed and the window for appealing administrative court decisions was shortened, among other measures. At the time, it was reported that the overall impact of the changes would be to effectively shut the door on appeals to negative asylum decisions.

These changes and their impact on asylum seeker legal recourse were roundly criticised by commentators such as Supreme Administrative Court president Pekka Vihervuori and University of Helsinki constitutional law professor Tuomas Ojanen in a Helsingin Sanomat article.

Between 2015 and 2018, Migri processed a total of 44,300 asylum cases involving applicants from 131 countries.

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