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Iraq refuses to accept forced returns from Finland, negotiations to continue

Finland and Iraq have failed to reach an accord on the return of rejected Iraqi asylum seekers. Finland is of the opinion that each country is obliged to repatriate its nationals, but Iraq has agreed to only take back voluntary returnees to the country, saying the Finnish stance violates human rights and international law. Foreign Minister Timo Soini says Finnish law should take precedent.

An Iranian family in a Serbian reception center. Image: Djordje Savic / EPA

Over the course of the last two years, more than 20,000 Iraqis have entered Finland to seek asylum. The majority have since returned voluntarily to their country of origin.

Even so, it is estimated that about nine thousand Iraqi nationals are still awaiting their asylum decision. Ministry and immigration officials predict that most of their applications will be rejected.

Päivi Nerg, Permanent Secretary at Finland’s Ministry of the Interior, says that about 8,000 of the Iraqis still waiting on a decision will be refused asylum in Finland, most of whom will then leave the country voluntarily. 

But some won’t. Finland has already started carrying out forced returns of asylum seekers that refuse to leave the country to dozens of countries, Iraq among them. Those people who have been forcibly returned to Iraq have been convicted of crimes in Finland and were in possession of valid travel documents.

Iraqi Minister says no

Iraq’s Minister of Migration and Displacement Jassim Mohammed Al-Jaff released a bulletin on his ministry’s website on Sunday that said any forced returns were in violation of international law.

Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini begs to differ.

“I think it’s absolutely clear that people who are in the country illegally, who have not been granted asylum, cannot stay in the country. Finnish law is very clear on this matter, and this is what we need to work with. The returns have succeeded much better, on a voluntary basis, from all other European countries,” he said.  

Nerg says the comments from Minister al-Jaff were nothing new, as Finnish delegates were given the same message during negotiations in Baghdad in December.

Less than 200 rejected asylum seekers in the country illegally

There are 164 asylum seekers in Finland at present that do not have permission to be in the country. Some of these are Iraqi. Päivi Nerg says none of them are being forcibly returned to their country of origin.

“We are looking for ways to promote voluntary returns among those who have received a negative decision.”

Soini is not too worried about the problem growing out of hand, as the number of asylum seekers has dropped dramatically in Finland.

“I think that the number of undocumented foreigners in Finland will fall, because their life in Finland without identification and as an illegal resident won’t be too good,” the minister says.

The Finnish Foreign Minister says he believes that the Iraqi minister’s missive may be motivated by internal political objectives. Negotiations to reach a agreement between Finland and Iraq are scheduled to continue in February in Helsinki.

“Agreeing on forced returns is difficult. It was very challenging to reach an agreement with Afghanistan, but we managed to do it,” says the Minister of Interior’s senior civil servant Nerg.