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Government aiming to accelerate deportations for serious crimes

Finnish lawmakers will convene on Tuesday to debate a citizens' initiative calling for the deportation of migrants convicted of criminal offences. Parliament’s Administration Committee has proposed rejecting the initiative, as it would represent a softening of current practice. At the the same time the Interior Ministry is looking for ways to expedite the expulsion of certain groups of offenders.

Image: Enja Heikkilä / Yle

Last winter, a citizens' initiative proposing the deportation of immigrants convicted of criminal offences in Finland gathered 54,000 supporters, making it eligible for debate by lawmakers in Parliament. The proposal calls for legislative changes to expel non-Finns convicted of serious crimes, regardless of the length of their prison sentences.

However MPs sitting on Parliament’s Administration Committee have recommended throwing out the motion, since it would effectively represent a softening of current practice.

Unlike the citizens' initiative, existing legislation doesn’t require an individual to have committed a serious offence to run the risk of deportation. According to the law as it stands, a foreigner who runs afoul of the law faces deportation if the offence draws a sentence of at least one year in prison or if the person is a serial offender.

This means that in theory, even a fine could result in deportation. On top of that, a non-Finn may also be expelled from the country if an individual’s conduct can be proven to be a danger to the safety of others.

In its present form, the legislation recommends deportation for foreign nationals with Finnish residence permits. Other border officials, such as police or border guards, may deny entry to foreigners or return them to their countries of origin. Officials may also impose an entry ban for a maximum period of two years or even longer if immigration officials deem it necessary. Apart from criminal offences, individuals may also be deported if their residence permits have expired.

Govt looking to expedite deportation for serious crimes

In practice border officials can immediately implement decisions to turn away or repatriate non-nationals who don’t have residence permits – except in the case of asylum seekers. Moreover, persons awaiting deportation require leave from the Administrative Courts to appeal such decisions. Typically, the deportation process may last from two to three years on average.

The Sipilä administration's manifesto has highlighted the length of the deportation process and it has mandated the Interior Ministry to find ways to speed up deportations for persons convicted of grave offences, repeat offenders and for persons who pose a threat to public order.

Interior Ministry legislative counsellor Tiina Sinkkanen said that work on the assignment is still in its early stages and it’s not yet clear what the outcome might be. Government hopes to table a proposal on the accelerated deportations next spring.

The Finnish Immigration Service is the ultimate arbiter of deportation decisions for immigrants who hold Finnish residence permits. In 2014, the agency processed 418 deportation cases, of which 258 led to actual expulsions. Last year immigration officials dealt with 380 cases and repatriated 258 people. In both years, crime-based deportations accounted for 30 percent of all cases.

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