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Helping or hiding? Government’s plan to criminalise hosting of undocumented migrants raises questions

On Thursday the government announced it would look into the possibility of criminalising assistance for undocumented migrants in some situations. According to the Interior Minister assistance itself will not be punishable, only the prevention of police carrying out their work, while opposition leaders were critical of the move.

Paula Risikko
Interior Minister Paula Risikko. Image: Heikki Saukkomaa

When does hosting an undocumented migrant become a crime? That’s the question many Finnish organisations and individuals are grappling with after the government on Thursday announced plans to consider criminalising certain kinds of help for undocumented migrants.

The government said that it aimed with the reforms to ”enable the authorities’ efficient and unobstructed intervention in illegal immigration.”

On Thursday evening Interior Minister Paula Risikko said on an Yle talk show that the aim is not necessarily to criminalise all help for the undocumented.

”I have never said that assistance would be criminalised, just if authorities’ operations are obstructed,” said Risikko, who added that the police had requested clearer legislation on the matter.

”To some extent [people are] preventing the police from doing their jobs,” said Risikko. ”By promoting overstaying in the country illegally. I agree that illegally residing in a country isn’t to anyone’s advantage. It’s very possible that [they] will be victims of exploitation or end up involved in illegal activities.”

Will offering a bed for the night become illegal?

Sanna Valtonen of the asylum seekers’ support association said that it would be difficult to define when something is punishable and when it isn’t.

”If you offer an undocumented migrant the chance to spend a night at accommodation owned by a third sector organisation, is that assistance?” asked Valtonen.

Green Party chair Touko Aalto said the proposal as outlined in the government’s budget document was open to interpretation.

”What is helping, what is hiding?” asked Aalto. ”Defining the boundary between them could be a bit difficult. Maybe these measures that were announced in the 2018 budget, need some clarification.”

On Thursday’s programme Risikko was unable to clarify whether or not offering a bed for the night would be criminalised.

”When the Justice Ministry does its work, then we’ll clarify this,” said Risikko. ”I emphasise that we have given guidelines to municipalities that emergency accommodation is necessary according to the constitution. But that kind of long-term, the type that lets people remain in the country illegally—nobody wants us to increase numbers of people in the country illegally.”

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