Interior minister vows to improve asylum application processing

Maria Ohisalo says Finland should also rethink the deportation of asylum seekers who have integrated and found work.

Finland's Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo Image: Karoliina Simoinen / Yle

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo wants to improve asylum application processing in Finland, especially in its early stages, to avoid problems in the process and wait times that can stretch to several years.

Appearing in an interview on Yle's Ykkösaamu programme, the Green Party chair said that Finland should consider granting residence permits to people who have integrated and found work.

The minister said that the beginning of the asylum application process in particular should be improved, to avoid long waiting times and streamline the immigration authorities' work . She reported that the government has earmarked 26 million euros over the next two years to improve the Finnish Immigration Service's processing of asylum applications.

Ohisalo called for immigration officials to be more mindful of asylum seekers' legal rights, and ensure the availability of interpreters and legal advisers. She also hinted at the possibility of longer appeal periods being reinstated.

"Right now, at start of the process, speed has taken priority over quality," she said in her morning interview, vowing to make quality the priority once again.

The government has recommended in its official four-year agenda that asylum seekers who have secured a steady job in Finland should be granted a residence permit. Minister Ohisalo said on Saturday that Finland should rethink whether it wants to be deporting people who have integrated and found work.

Finland's interior minister said that current Finnish law already sees to it that asylum seekers who are convicted of serious crimes are deported. A citizens' initiative backing the deportation of foreigners convicted of sexual offences recently gained enough signatures to be considered by the Finnish Parliament.

Iraq and Syrian camps are sticking points

Iraq refuses to repatriate rejected asylum seekers who are forcibly returned to the country from Finland and most other European countries. Finland has been negotiating with Iraq to allow for the deportations, but Ohisalo said that a deal is unlikely to take place anytime soon. She says most of Europe is confronting the same challenge.

Ohisalo reminded viewers of the morning talk show that European asylum policy has been jammed for years, and hundreds of people have drowned this year in the Mediterranean. She said it is Finland's task in its role of rotating EU presidency to promote long-term solutions and temporary mechanisms. She gives as an example the project to create a group of "willing countries" to distribute refugees and migrants rescued at sea, and said that Finland's government is currently in talks to determine how many countries should be involved before Finland commits to the effort.

On the issue of Finnish nationals at the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria, the interior minister said that from the ministry's point of view, every Finnish citizen has the right to return to their home country if they arrive at the border. She said that in other cases, it is a matter for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to deal with. She says the government is considering how to help the children in the camp, who have been unable to choose their situation in life.