Veronika Honkasalo (LA) spoke during a plenary session in the Parliament House in Helsinki on Monday, 4 July 2022. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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A LAST-MINUTE disagreement broke out between lawmakers over reforming the border guard act in the Finnish Parliament, report YLE and Helsingin Sanomat.

The Parliament’s Administration Committee concluded last week that in extraordinary circumstances the eastern border can be shuttered and the receipt of asylum applications centralised to a single border-crossing point, such as Helsinki Airport.

The ability to restrict border crossings is viewed as a means to protect against hybrid influence campaigns that involve the use of asylum seekers.

Three of the five ruling parties, however, were concerned whether the decision adheres to international treaties, particularly after Lithuanian laws that prevented irregular migrants from seeking asylum were ruled to violate EU directives by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). The law had been introduced in response to an influx of migrants from Belarus in 2021.

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Representatives of the EU accused Belarus of using refugees as a political weapon, an accusation that was denied by Minsk.

Veronika Honkasalo (LA) on Monday proposed that the Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee examine the reform bill, underlining that no law that pertains to human rights should allow for contradictory interpretations.

“The opposition parties’ central goal has been for years to make the asylum procedure as strict as possible,” she was quoted saying by YLE.

Members of the Parliament rejected the proposal by a vote of 16 for and 103 against, with 10 of the yay votes coming from the Left Alliance, five from the Green League and one from the Swedish People’s Party. The Speaker’s Council had earlier voted 3 for and 11 against submitting the bill to the Constitutional Law Committee.

The Green League, Left Alliance and Swedish People’s Party viewed that the Administration Committee did not sufficiently take into account the ruling against Lithuania, arguing that it is therefore necessary to make sure the bill does not infringe on international law.

Riikka Purra (PS), the chairperson of the Administration Committee, rejected the argument. She told that the request for a preliminary ruling and the settlement proposed by the advocate general were made available not only to the government, but also to the Administration and Constitutional Law Committees.

“The judgement thus offers nothing new or relevant in regards to this report or government bill,” she said.

YLE on Monday wrote that experts remain concerned that the reform bill could hinder the actualisation of the right to seek international protection.

“I think it’s problematic that Finland is forwarding legislation under which the realisation is at the very least uncertain,” messaged Päivi Leino-Sandberg, a professor of international law at the University of Helsinki.

Mika Sormunen, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, pointed also to a recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights against Poland.

“The EU court’s ruling is key especially for the proposed border shutdown because it refers specifically to hybrid campaigns. What’s significant about the ruling is that the EU court viewed that the right to apply for asylum couldn’t be denied even for people who had entered the country illegally,” he wrote in an e-mail to YLE.

Jukka Savolainen, the director of hybrid influence at the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, said Finland should have the right to take control of the situation if a hybrid campaign threatens to create an uncontrollable influx of refugees. Such a situation, he added, should be regarded as an extreme emergency.

“You’re preparing […] not for an everyday judicial practice, but for an emergency where Finnish citizens are in danger and control of Finnish territory is in danger,” he commented. “That’s when you prepare to use measures that are necessary and possibly in violation of provisions of international law on an ordinary day.”

“International law doesn’t include suicide pacts, meaning sovereign states must see to their own affairs.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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