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Yle analysis disproves PM's claim that most asylum seekers are economic migrants

Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said on Saturday that most asylum seekers come to Europe for economic reasons, but Yle's analysis shows otherwise.

Pakolaisperhe – äiti lapsineen – kävelee turvapaikanhakijoiden käsittelykeskuksen ulkopuolella Saksan Eisenhüttenstadtissa.
An asylum seeker family in Germany in 2015. Image: Patrick Pleul / EPA

Speaking on Yle's Saturday morning TV interview programme Ykkösaamu, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä said that most asylum seekers arriving in Europe between 2015 and 2016 were economic migrants.

"A majority of them were on the move because of economic reasons," he said. "Not because they were fleeing war or persecution."

"This has caused the recent unrest in Europe," Sipilä added, referring to last week’s protests and violence in Germany.

However, an analysis by Yle shows that Sipilä's claim is incorrect.

According to Yle, about 1.2 million of the two million asylum claims made in Europe from 2016 to 2017 were granted, including appeals.

Because asylum is granted based on the potential danger and harm that applicants could face in their own countries, a positive asylum decision can thus be considered proof that the applicant is not an economic migrant.

However, the share of negative asylum decisions has risen significantly in Europe in recent times, which may have caused Sipilä to make the statement.

Fewer positive decisions in Finland

In addition, Finland has granted fewer applicants asylum than European countries on average. Between 2016 and 2017, the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) rejected 49 percent of asylum applications and approved and 31 percent, while 21 percent of the applications either lapsed or were not processed.

Then again, a refusal to grant protection to an asylum seeker does not automatically mean that the applicant is an economic migrant. For example, a wealthy asylum seeker from Afghanistan may want to live in a more secure environment where future prospects look more promising than in the home country.

Finally, asylum seekers have received negative decisions even though they have faced violence, torture or threats on their life. Past violence does not constitute a sufficient basis for asylum. Instead, applicants must persuade immigration authorities that the threat exists if they return home.

More than 32,000 asylum seekers came to Finland in 2015, most of them from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

In September 2015, Sipilä offered his home in Kempele to asylum seekers, but he later reneged on the pledge due to security reasons.

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