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UNICEF rebukes Finland over treatment of asylum-seeking children

UNICEF says Finland has violated the rights of asylum seeker children by detaining them and deporting them to countries it says are unsafe.

Image: Yle

According to a report published by the UN’s children’s organisation UNICEF on Monday, Finland treats underage asylum seekers first and foremost as asylum seekers, not children, and deports them to countries that are unsafe. As a result, children have lost the rights that belong to them under the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The report “Protected on Paper?” says that Finland gives migration law precedence over the Convention on the Rights of the Child and fails to determine children's best interests during the asylum process.

"Children’s best interests should be taken into account every time a decision affects them, even if they have arrived in Finland with their parents," says Mirella Huttunen from UNICEF’s Finland National Committee.

Such due process does not always take place, and consequently underage asylum seekers are deported to countries with a questionable security situation, the report says.

Moreover, the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) issues unaccompanied asylum seeker children temporary permits that only allow them to stay in the country until they can be sent home at the age of 18.

"If this was a Finnish child, no authority in Finland would allow it”

UNICEF is particularly concerned about Finland’s policy of detaining asylum seeker children in prison-like institutions.

According to many studies, detention is extremely harmful for a child’s development, Huttunen says. “If this was a Finnish child, no authority in Finland would allow it,” she says.

The report recommends that Finland swiftly change its laws and practices concerning the detention of asylum seeker children. Clear criteria as to how a child’s best interest is determined during the asylum process are urgently needed, UNICEF says.

In addition, the organisation criticizes Finland for new regulations that make it difficult for asylum-seeking children to receive free legal aid. Previously, asylum seekers could receive free legal counsel from independent refugee lawyers, but since 2016 Finland no longer pays for such services. This means that the only free counsel available is provided by the public legal aid services, which do not necessarily have the expertise to deal with asylum seeker cases, UNICEF adds.

Finally, the report proposes that the responsibility for underage asylum seekers who arrive in the country alone should be transferred from Migri to child protection authorities.

The report analysed Finland and the other Nordic countries in terms of how they treat underage asylum seekers. UNICEF found problems in all five countries.