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Ex-president Halonen: Forced returns to dangerous countries must end

President Tarja Halonen writes in a Helsingin Sanomat column that the forced returns of asylum-seekers with negative asylum decisions be suspended until the authorities have updated their security information on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria especially. Foreign affairs committee chair Matti Vanhanen disagrees.

Presidentti Tarja Halosen avauspuhe seminaarissa Helsingin yliopistolla
President Tarja Halonen. Image: Antti Haanpää / Yle

President Tarja Halonen wrote in a guest writer's column in Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday that forced repatriation to Middle-Eastern countries in conflict should be halted entirely until authorities such as the Finnish Immigration Service and police have updated their information on the security of the countries in question.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against traveling to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria," Halonen writes. "The authorities still see no obstacle to returning people to these countries, despite their having experienced persecution there."

Halonen says that more and more Finnish people suspect that the countries are not safe for the people being forcibly sent there after negative asylum decisions. She also says she hopes that migrants who have converted from Islam to Christianity not be returned, because one's religion may be a motive for persecution or discrimination.

"They must not be returned. Not because they are Christian, but because renouncing Islam can seriously endanger their safety in their old home countries," Halonen writes.

The ex-president also expresses the wish that the relevant authorities update their information not just through second-hand statistics, but by visiting the regions in question themselves and collaborating with local authorities.

Mere telecommunication is not enough, says SDP veteran Halonen. Her column also suggests that the current Finnish refugee quota of 750 be raised.

Some 40,000 asylum applications have been registered in Finland, and handling them all will take years.

Vanhanen: "No new criteria"

Matti Vanhanen, ex-Prime Minister and current chair of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, says he disagrees with Halonen's stance. On TV1's morning politics show on Saturday Vanhanen said that new criteria for being granted asylum should not be developed at this stage.

"I would be very careful with changing principles such as these," he said, "and about creating new circumstances that might attract even more asylum-seekers."

The Centre Party's Vanhanen says he has not heard any calls for changes from the officials who govern the forced returns.

"It's part of official protocol to follow the situation, and I'm sure the authorities are monitoring the circumstances."

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