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Revamped temporary EU travel document to boost deportations from Finland

In 2017 more than 100 Iraqis and Afghans were deported from Finland using an updated temporary EU travel document. The numbers are set to rise this year.

Demonstrators protest against Finnish asylum policy at the offices of the Finnish Immigration Service last autumn. Image: Emmi Korhonen / Lehtikuva

Following the adoption by EU member states of a new travel document to assist with the deportation of non-EU nationals, Finnish police began issuing the documents in June.

So far, police officials have doled out 214 travel documents, 94 of which were issued this year. Nearly all of the temporary travel documents have been issued to Iraqi and Afghan nationals, who currently comprise the majority of asylum seekers arriving in Finland.

EU member states have had difficulty repatriating rejected asylum seekers in cases where the individuals did not have valid travel documents or passports that allowed airlines to admit them to overseas flights. However the new EU travel document has facilitated Finnish police with deportations, according to Superintendent Pekka Kallio of Helsinki Immigration Police.

“Of course all of the factors that make things easier are positive from the perspective of deportations. We have to use all available means,” Kallio said.

Kallio noted that some repatriations are blocked by court orders barring the execution of deportation orders. This means that that the 214 travel documents issued since last year do not necessarily reflect the actual number of people who face deportation.

Finns Party’s Halla-aho pushes for document revamp

The EU had previously introduced a temporary travel document for the deportation of third party nationals with no residence status back in 1994. However returnee countries were reluctant to accept it as a valid travel document because its poor security features made it vulnerable to forgery. As a result, in 2004, just 40 percent of deportations with the document were successfully executed.

Low deportation rates, coupled with a surge in the number of asylum seekers entering the EU in 2015 prompted officials to design a new travel document. Current Finns Party chair and MEP Jussi Halla-aho was responsible for drawing up a draft report for a proposal on the matter for the European Commission. A clear majority of Europarliamentarians later accepted the proposal in autumn 2016, paving the way for the updated travel document now in use.

Somali deportations set to rise

Apart from Iraqis and Afghans, Finnish police have also issued the temporary travel documents to nationals of other countries.

It appears that the number of such documents assigned to Somalis is expected to grow in the near future, given that the number of rejected asylum applications submitted by Somalis has increased significantly since 2015. Back then, fewer than two percent of Somali asylum applications were turned down. However today, more than half of Somali asylum seekers are turned away.

Additionally, much like the case of Iraqis and Afghans Somali asylum seekers who have appealed their asylum decisions are coming to the end of their legal recourse for staying in the country. This means an increase in the number of deportations to the Horn of Africa for Finnish police.

”We will probably be able to step up the deportation of Somalis to be removed from the country,” Kallio stated.

Questions over Finnish asylum policy

The deportation of individual Somalis has attracted the attention of the Somali community in Finland, given that repatriations have not affected this group in recent years. The immigration police chief said however, that no large-scale deportations of Somalis are on the cards.

”There is no major mass movement in sight. We have initiated the return process with a few individuals. We are taking small steps,” Kallio commented.

In February Finnish asylum policy came under scrutiny when a French court blocked the transfer of an asylum seeker registered in Finland over concerns he might be returned to Iraq, a move viewed by the court as a violation of human rights accords.

Also in February, Yle reported on an Iraqi man who was killed in Baghdad weeks after he was deported from Finland following a failed asylum bid. At the time the man’s daughter was also awaiting deportation from Finland with her two infant children.