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Finnish Interior Minister proposes ten-fold increase in quota refugees across the EU

Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen said that his proposal would hike Finland’s quota refugees by 1,000 to reach around 2,000 annually.

Sisäministeri Kai Mykkänen
Image: Nella Nuora / Yle

Ahead of a European Council summit next week to thrash out the thorny question of asylum seekers wanting to settle in the region, Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen is proposing a ten-fold increase in quota refugees accepted into the European Union.

According to Mykkänen, his proposal would increase Finland’s annual complement of quota refugees by 1,000 to reach around 2,000. The minister said that his solution would be better than establishing asylum seeker reception centres outside EU borders.

“It would be enough for Europe to jointly commit to take an increased number of people in vulnerable situations from these camps. At the same time we would limit immigration taking place by way of cross-border people smuggling,” Mykkänen outlined Friday.

Asked why his suggestion would prove to be a better solution that setting up asylum seeker camps beyond EU borders, Mykkänen said that duplicate systems would not necessarily be effective.

“It’s not necessarily worthwhile to have duplicate systems. And I’m not sure how we would be able to create a system in these EU centres that would effectively separate unsubstantiated applications from people in need of asylum. We have a long-established process in the quota refugee system. It is a ready mechanism,” the minister noted.

More quota refugees, more even distribution

Mykkänen is advocating a ten-fold increase in the EU quota refugee system that would mean receiving a quarter of a million asylum seekers annually instead of the current 25,000.

In recent years, Finland has accepted between 750 and 1,050 quota refugees each year. Mykkänen said that his proposal would not mean a corresponding ten-fold increase to 7,500 asylum seekers for Finland. He explained that quota refugees are now unevenly distributed across the EU.

“They must be more evenly distributed. Sweden now accepts the highest number of quota refugees and even Finland is at the top [of the list] in relation to its population. Let’s look to the large central European countries,” he added.

In any case, it is important to relieve pressure on EU border states, the interior minister said. Asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean to the Greek and Italian coasts and travelling from there across Europe create human suffering as well as political crises within and among EU member states, he added.

“We must provide protection to those who need it. But the current process is very problematic. It creates uncontrolled people smuggling and complicates the repatriation of rejected asylum seekers, something that appears to be destabilising societies, especially in central Europe.”

Mykkänen’s proposals are familiar. Other backers of an increase in quota refugees include Mykkänen’s predecessor Paula Risikko and Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. Mykkänen had also previously called for the same measure. However at the time, junior government partner the Blue Reform had shut down the idea.

Plan to isolate asylum seekers from economic migrants

In the weeks ahead EU leaders will be working to find a solution to fix the region’s impotence on the asylum seeker issue. Next Thursday will see initial proposals tabled at a European Council summit.

According to a draft declaration leaked ahead of the meeting, one plan would be to separate people genuinely in need of international protection from so-called economic migrants at centres to be set up outside the European Union.

According to Mykkänen, one of the key cornerstones of the EU – freedom of movement – rests on finding solutions to the current problem.

“The Schengen agreement is at stake here. There is a risk that next autumn we will begin to see internal border checks in central Europe. The ideal of a borderless Europe would have been a temporary phenomenon.”

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