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Finnish government to ease residence for some undocumented migrants

A new government plan will open a path for people who have received negative asylum decisions but found work to stay in the country.

Mustavalkoinen kuva ihmisestä takaapäin.
According to an estimate by the Association of Finnish Municipalities, there are 700-1100 undocumented migrants in Finland. Photo for illustration only. Image: Helena von Alfthan / Yle

Finland's Interior Ministry has issued an updated Action Plan for the Prevention of Irregular Entry and Stay that includes measures to more effectively address the situation of undocumented migrants in the country.

The plan, presented on Wednesday, is aimed at preventing the emergence of what it terms "a parallel society" in Finland.

It is difficult to estimate the number of undocumented immigrants in the country, but according to the Association of Finnish Municipalities, as of last summer there were probably about 700–1,100 people living in Finland without the required legal documents. The government does not want to see that figure rise.

"Measures must be at the same time both effective and humane," Interior Ministry Chief of Staff Kirsi Pimiä told a press conference on Wednesday.

Even more difficult than estimating the number of undocumented migrants is identifying them. Efforts to do so are underway, however because they are at high risk of being trafficked.

"This is especially challenging, because paperless people may not necessarily turn first to the authorities to report possible crimes against them," said Jutta Gras, a senior adviser at the Ministry of the Interior.

Access to jobs

One major change is that those who are not in Finland legally, in certain cases, would be allowed to stay. This would be possible if a person has previously received a negative asylum decision but found a job for themselves.

In practice, in such a case, an undocumented migrant could obtain an alien's passport, which they could use for travel to their own country and to return to Finland.

"If all other conditions for the residence permit are met, but the person does not have a travel document, then by issuing an alien's passport in these situations, the person could travel to a diplomatic mission of their country and obtain a passport to be used for further permits," Gras explained.

When this change may take place is as of yet uncertain, as it will require changes in legislation that will be reviewed this coming autumn.

According to the Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo (Green), this would be a step for the better from the point of view of a safe and secure society.

"People who stay in the country without residence permits face the risk of becoming excluded, of committing crimes and of being exploited by criminals themselves, even to the point of becoming victims of human trafficking. For this reason, in the interests of both society and individuals, Finland should strive to comprehensively prevent the emergence of a parallel society," stated Ohisalo in a ministry release on Wednesday.

Repatriations to continue

Police say that in principle they repatriate almost everyone who is not in the country legally. In practice, however, it can't be done.

"We would have the resources to handle the situation so that there would no longer be undocumented people here. But there are certain countries, for example, that do not cooperate well," says Police Chief Superintendent Joni Länsivuori.

Not all countries agree to receive nationals subject to involuntary repatriation. The Ministry of the Interior said on Wednesday that Finland is still negotiating repatriation agreements with Afghanistan, for example.

Article continues after the photo.

Anne Hammad, Diakonissalaitkosen Suojattomat-hankkeen projektipäällikkö
Anne Hammad helps undocumented migrants through the Unprotected community project. Image: Sini Järnström/ Yle

"Almost all being exploited"

A project known as the Unprotected community, run by the Helsinki Deaconess Institute, helps undocumented migrants living in Finland in a number of ways.

"Paperless people can come to the day centre of the Deaconess Institute to take care of practical matters. Here you can cook, do laundry and meet other undocumented migrants," says Project Manager Anne Hammad.

According to Hammad, these paperless people can also be given healthcare or legal aid.

"Most of these people have no right to services or any help from society. They live outside society. Almost everyone is subjected to some form of exploitation, for example, in connection with work, when wages are not paid. At worst, they have to sell themselves or are forced to sell drugs," she explains.

Hammad hopes that the situation will change to the point that these people can contact the authorities without fear of being repatriated.

"It would be good for them to be able to talk to the authorities if they have been exploited, for example," she says.

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