Amnesty International has expressed its concern about the changes introduced to the asylum procedure in Finland in 2016.
The human rights watchdog highlights in its newly-published annual report that last year the right to free legal representation in asylum interviews was restricted to applicants with exceptional grounds for assistance. The deadlines for appealing against negative asylum decisions, in turn, were shortened from 30 to 21 days in second-instance and from 30 to 14 days in third-instance courts.
“The changes increased the likelihood of asylum seekers being forcibly returned to countries where they might be at risk of human rights violations,” says Amnesty.
The Government of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) also introduced income requirements on the sponsors of family reunifications under subsidiary protection in Finland. A family of two adults, for example, is currently required to provide proof of monthly net earnings of at least 1,000 euros and a family of two adults and two underage children of at least 2,600 euros.
The requirements are unreasonably high, according to Amnesty.
“Further administrative restrictions and practical difficulties with the application procedure adversely affected the ability of refugees and other recipients of international protection – including unaccompanied children – to enjoy the right to family life,” the report states.
Amnesty also reminds that immigration authorities have continued to detain unaccompanied children and families and that no time limits on detaining families with children are in place in Finland.
The watchdog also draws attention to two long-standing problems in the country: the position of transgender people and violence against women.
Finnish laws, it points out, currently stipulate that transgender people can only obtain legal gender recognition if they agree to be sterilised, are diagnosed with a mental disorder and are over 18 years of age.
Services for female victims of violence, meanwhile, remain inadequate, under-resourced and subject to considerable regional variation.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health did, on the other hand, draw up a draft decree for establishing a body to co-ordinate the efforts to combat violence against women, acknowledges Amnesty.
Yet another regular feature on its laundry list of criticisms is the treatment of conscientious objectors and, in general, the military service in Finland. Amnesty argues that the only alternative to the mandatory military services, the civilian service, is punitive because at 347 days its duration is more than double the shortest military service period of 165 days.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Markku Ulander – Lehtikuva