Some 6,300 Iraqis have been given negative asylum application decisions this year by the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS). The Ministry of the Interior is busy planning what to do with them all.
"We are doing everything in our power to get people with negative decisions to return to their home countries of their own accord," says Permanent Secretary Päivi Nerg.
Voluntary remigration compensated
The first thing that a denied asylum-seeker is told is that they are no longer welcome to stay in Finland. People from Iraq who have been denied a residence permit cannot be forced to return there because Finland and Iraq do not have a bilateral return agreement. Whether such an agreement could be created, Nerg is unable to say.
"There's a team of us who are working hard to make that happen," she says. "But as of now we don't believe a return agreement is yet possible."
Since 2015 the Ministry of the Interior has paid out a lump sum to asylum-seekers who choose to return to their country of origin on their own.
Migrants from countries belonging to the Immigration Service's so-called A Group – which includes Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia – may receive a 1,000-euro benefit sum for remigrating to their countries of origin.
As of yet there is little speculation as to whether that incentive sum could be increased.
"We've been in some preliminary talks about it, and this will probably be one of the things we will be assessing," Nerg says.
No concrete guidelines
Finland's Constitution makes it mandatory for the government to ultimately safeguard the subsistence of everyone in the country, even those without residence permits. Subsistence, however, does not necessarily have to mean income support in the sense that Finnish social work regards it.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the national social insurance institution Kela are currently drawing up guidelines on how to deal with Iraqis here without permission.
"Guidelines do exist, but they all deal with undocumented migrants. No guidelines exist for those staying in the country illegally per se," Nerg says.
The Kela draft is to be finished by December, when Kela will begin handling income support applications instead of Finland's municipalities.
Acute care a given?
The Interior Ministry says it is doing "everything in its power" to get denied Iraqis to return on their own, but Nerg herself says she is well aware of the fact that many stay in the country after being denied asylum, risking homelessness.
"We're not naïve about this," she says. "If someone is in need of acute emergency housing we always take care of it. But the fact remains that there is not enough room to acutely house thousands of new homeless. And there won't be, until we know the exact need."
Nerg says she considers the idea of converting a reception centre into emergency housing for homeless, denied asylum-seekers a possibility.
"We're able to move quickly if need be. But we're not using any more resources to consider this," Nerg says.
"Not easy to stay here illegally"
Nerg nonetheless says she does not believe that there will be thousands of those who stay behind; instead, she says, she thinks they will all leave.
"Previous years have shown us that Finland is not the kind of society where anyone can easily stay illegally," she says. "Many prefer other countries in Europe. And previously we didn't even have this volunteer reward mechanism."
Nerg says that those asylum-seekers who have been handed a negative decision should think about attaining asylum in other ways, making their stay in the country legal.
"If someone stays in Finland, they should think about finding a job or a place to study, to find legal means of staying that way."