Finland could consider making assistance for rejected asylum seekers a criminal offence, according to the Interior Minister Paula Risikko, as her department looks for ways to speed up deportations.
The security establishment continues to suggest legislative changes to the asylum and immigration system in the wake of Friday's stabbings in Turku, in which a Moroccan man attacked ten people, killing two, before he was shot in the hip and arrested by police.
The suspect, who admits his actions but denies murder with terrorist intent, had applied for asylum in Finland but been rejected. Subsequently political attention has turned to possible legislative moves including a long-sought intelligence law, a look at establishing detention centres for rejected asylum seekers, and other measures.
On Wednesday Interior Minister Paula Risikko said that there are 11,000 asylum seekers in reception centres who have received a negative asylum decision and for whom the appeals process is unlikely to be successful. The majority of them are likely to return to their home countries.
Some 1,400 people have exhausted their appeals but refused to leave the country. They are awaiting deportation by the police. The main reason for delays is that they lack documents from their home countries, according to Risikko.
"Countries don't want to send the required documents especially quickly, so we're forced to wait for quite long periods and nobody is returned to their home country," said Risikko at the National Coalition Party's summer retreat.
Of those awaiting deportation, some 800 are Iraqi citizens. Despite several attempts, Finland has not managed to secure a bilateral deportation agreement with Iraq or with several other countries — with the exception of Afghanistan.
Speed up removals
The Interior Minister says she wants to speed up the removal of asylum seekers who receive a negative decision. Voluntary returns have been expedited by making small payments to those who leave, but some remain difficult to persuade.
"One aspect that should be looked at is whether we should toughen punishments for immigration crimes," said Risikko.
The government is also considering other ways of making it more difficult for people to reside in Finland without documentation.
"We're also considering whether helping or hiding [rejected asylum seekers] should be punishable," said Risikko.
The ministry is also looking into the establishment of specialist centres for those who have received negative decisions.
Supo chief: Deportation centres would be beneficial
On Wednesday the head of Finland's Security Intelligence Service (Supo), Antti Pelttari said centres for failed asylum seekers would be a step in the right direction. Finnish law does not allow for blanket detention of those subject to deportation orders, but they can be made to live at a certain address and to report to police at regular intervals.
Pelttari told Yle's morning television programme that Finland's security situation would be improved if the country intensified deportation of those who have received deportation orders.
Tip blunder "regrettable"
Pelttari said it was regrettable that Supo did not follow up on the tip that they received half a year ago about the man who allegedly carried out the Turku knife attacks last week. The tip, which was passed onto the agency by police in south-west Finland at the beginning of 2017, alleged that the knife suspect had become radicalised, but Supo did not follow up on the tip.
Earlier this week an agency spokesman said that Supo received "more than one thousand" similar tips over the course of about two years.
The Supo chief said that Finland needs new surveillance laws and that Supo's current investigation abilities were worse than the security agencies of other countries across Europe.
"[Today] we are compelled [by law] to prove that a terrorist threat exists in every single case," Pelttari said.