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Iraqi refugees on hunger strike to protest stricter asylum guidelines

More than 350 Iraqi asylum seekers lodging at former army barracks in Hennala, Lahti say they plan to go on a hunger strike to protest Finland’s intention to take a harder line on refugees coming from Iraq and Somalia. They are calling on Iraqis in other reception centres to join their protest.

Turvapaikanhakijoita Lahdessa.
Turvapaikanhakijoita Lahdessa syksyllä 2015. Image: Mika Moksu / Yle

The Iraqi asylum seekers say they are embarking on the protest action following immigration authorities' declared intention to introduce stricter criteria for processing asylum applications from Iraq and Somalia.

Altogether some 359 Iraqi refugees, who are being accommodated at a former army barracks in Lahti’s Hennala district, say they want Iraqis in other reception centres to follow suit. The Hennala centre also houses some 20 Somali asylum seekers.

Immigration officials say they're concerned that Finland's policies are more lenient than those of other EU countries--including neighbouring Sweden.

Majority of asylum seekers from Iraq

At present many asylum seekers from Baghdad and the central regions of Iraq are granted protection in Finland, in contrast to some EU countries, which return some refugees to regions deemed to be safe.

Finland is looking to bring its practices in line with the rest of Europe, meaning a tougher approach for refugees who've arrived this year.

The authorities have decided to freeze current applications from Somalis and Iraqis while they review and update their guidelines. The decision may mean higher numbers of deportations.

Up to 70 percent of an estimated 17,000 asylum seekers entering Finland so far this year have come from Iraq.

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