Amnesty International Finnish Section, Finnish League for Human Rights, Central Union for Child Welfare in Finland, FinnChurchAid, Finnish Ecumenical Council, Refugee Advice Centre, Finnish Refugee Council and Finnish Red Cross want to bring views and critical observations on the European refugee policy to government’s attention. The organisations hope for the creditable conclusions of the 1999 European Council of Tampere and the so-called spirit of Tampere to be present in the Finnish policy during the Presidency. The mid-way evaluation for the Hague Programme will be executed in the autumn, which provides Finland with a good opportunity for critical evaluation of the developments since Tampere, particularly on the part of control measures, which have been stressed at the expense of protection.
1. Influencing the root causes of exiles – in coherence
The Global Commission on Migration set up by the Secretary General of the United Nations and certain states criticises states and the current system guiding the international migration for the lack of coherence. It is typical of the politicians of the European Union as well as the Member States that different political segments do not cooperate adequately on issues concerning international migration and on some occasions they have conflicting aims.
In the EU, asylum and refugee policy stresses mainly justice and home affairs. However, exile and irregular migration and problems relating these issues are not solved without a comprehensive and consistent policy, which is also concerned on tackling the root causes behind the problems. This includes the promotion of peace, democracy and human rights as well as fighting poverty and economic inequality.
The protection of refugees and the development of durable solutions for the ones, who have had to flee, should be taken into consideration in development cooperation in a much wider range than at present. Genuine dialogue and cooperation with the third countries is essentially important. The scale of migration confronting Europe can be affected only by influencing the root causes of exile.
The EU should strengthen and direct crisis management to prevent and end conflicts leading to exile more efficiently than it currently does. The EU should actively push for a policy of intervening in conflicts with peacekeeping operations.
2. Responsibility-sharing and resettlement
The European Union should take an adequate amount of responsibility on the protection of refugees. In comparison to other continents the amount of refugees in Europe are continuously very small and the EU is seen as a closed region.
In addition to economic and political support, concrete indications on the fact that the EU is ready to receive people in need of protection are required. This calls for a good cooperation from the Member States, based on solidarity. In case the starting-point of the Member States is, in fact, to receive the least possible amount of refugees, the policy of shifting the responsibility will be strengthened. Shifting responsibility between the EU and the rest of the world could mean for example that the EU does not want asylum seekers in its region but wants to develop so-called transit camps where all asylum seekers would be gathered. Inside the EU shifting responsibility means that the Member States are tightening their legislations in order to decrease the amount of asylum seekers in their countries.
The key problem in the EU concerning refugee protection is the access to protection. In lack of legal migration channels many refugees have to use human smugglers to reach Europe. It is understandable that countries want to prevent illegal migration but it must not hinder refugees to receive protection. The EU should develop legal migration channels for refugees.
The resettlement of refugees is a concrete way to take responsibility of refugee protection. According to the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR there are some six millions refugees who have lived in refugee camps over 10 years without durable solution to their situation. There can also be sudden incidents where certain group of refugees needs to be resettled urgently. Although resettlement is only one possible durable solution it is a functioning alternative when possibilities for return or local integration are weak.
The European Union should in its own part show readiness and willingness to take part in resettlement so that Member States would much more than now commit themselves to receive so-called quota refugees. In longer run the EU should develop a common resettlement system.
Finland has a long tradition in refugee resettlement. With our experience and knowledge we can support and encourage other Member States to take part in resettlement. During its Presidency Finland should promote the development of the common EU resettlement system.
3. Common European Asylum System
According to the Hague Programme goals of the common European asylum system are: to strengthen the common asylum procedure and to give uniform status for persons granted asylum or subsidiary protection. Although the EU has proceeded in adoption of common directives, the developing a common asylum system is still unfinished. It is worrying that transposing the directives already agreed has not proceeded in a desirable way.
The basic problem in the harmonisation process has been the lack of interest of the Member States to create a truly common system, which would require the states to change their legislations and asylum systems. Thus some of the directives, like the asylum procedures directive, are merely a collection of the lowest standards. Still the Member States act according to their own systems, which means that asylum policies differ greatly between countries.
Seeking asylum in the EU has become a kind of “lottery”. For example in 2004 over 50 percent of applicants got a refugee status in Austria when in Finland only 0,6 percent received a refugee status.
According to the Dublin Regulation the Member State where asylum application is first made or where asylum seeker first arrives, is responsible for examining the application. The system has not, however, managed to guarantee fair procedure for asylum seekers. Some Member States for example deny access to asylum procedure to persons transferred under Dublin system. Asylum seekers are more than before detained prior to the transfer. Victims of torture and other vulnerable groups do not get treatment and support they need because reception conditions, like health care and psychiatric treatment, differ from Member State to another.
Flaws in the Dublin system need urgent attention, but in the longer run, the EU must find a fairer, more humane and workable alternative for Dublin system. Until then the EU has to follow how the Member States apply the Regulation and encourage countries to pay attention to family unity and the best interest of the child as the Regulation allows instead of following the Dublin rules in mechanical manner.
Relating to the asylum procedures the Member States are negotiating to prepare a list of safe countries of origin. Application of an asylum seeker from a country in the list would be considered as manifestly unfounded. The list would be binding for all Member States. The Finnish NGOs consider that lists of safe countries will endanger the right of asylum seekers for individual processing, for example the right for personal asylum interview is not guaranteed. No country can be considered safe for all its citizens in all times. The decision of the list of safe countries has to be made in co-decision procedure where the stand of the European Parliament is taken into account. The NGOs urge Finland to take highly critical stand towards the list of safe countries of origin.
The European Union attempts also to draw up common standards and procedures for returning of illegally staying third country nationals from the Member States. Returns often relate to problems concerning legal safeguards, interim and coercive measures, which have to be solved with jointly agreed procedures by respecting human rights and basic freedoms. In the negotiations of so-called returns directive a special attention has to be paid to vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors, who should not be detained and whose returns always have to be considered from the point of view of the best interest of the child. If the third country nationals cannot be returned for some reason they should be given a legal status.
Intolerance and populistic policies make international refugee and asylum work more difficult and hinder people to receive protection guaranteed to them by international conventions. Increase of racism cannot be explained by growing numbers of asylum seekers entering Europe since recent years numbers have gone considerably down. When in 2001 altogether 440 000 asylum seekers arrived to the current EU Member States (25), last year the number was 240 000. Over 80 percent of world’s refugees live, in fact, in poor countries.
Increase of racism and tightening of asylum policies make people in need of protection more difficult to reach protection and also force them to illegal stay. Increase of tolerance in societies on the other hand improves international protection of refugees and asylum seekers and helps in returns to home and solving refugee crises.
The High Commissioner of the UN Refugee Agency António Guterres has named tolerance towards refugees and asylum seekers as one key theme of the Agency. According to him protection concerns of people fleeing persecution have to be put in core of development cooperation. Only that way we can reach durable solutions to the global development, refugee and human rights problems.
Recommendations to Finland’s Presidency:
Finland has to promote coherent intervention to the root causes of refugeeism, also with crisis management operations. Protection of people forced to flee and finding durable solutions have to be brought in the core of development work.
The European Union has to in a credible way take part in the international responsibility-sharing in the global refugee protection. Legal channels to immigrate to the EU area have to be developed. Finland has a special opportunity during its Presidency to promote the development of EU resettlement system.
Finland has to promote the development of such a common European asylum system, which guarantees similar rights and chances to receive protection inside the EU. The problems of the Dublin system have to be acknowledged and solved.
Finland has to take a highly critical stand on the list of safe countries of origin. The asylum procedures directive does not guarantee individual processing to asylum seekers from these countries.
the negotiations of the returns directive a special attention has to be paid to situation of vulnerable groups such as children. If third country nationals cannot be returned they should be given a legal status.
EU Member States have to clearly dissociate themselves from any themes in their migration policies that increase xenophobia. Minorities have to be involved in decision-making concerning them.
International Refugee Day, 20 June 2006
Amnesty International Finnish Section
Acting Secretary General
Finnish League for Human Rights
Finn Church Aid
Executive Director Finland
Central Union for Child Welfare in
Refugee Advice Centre
Finnish Ecumenical Council
Finnish Refugee Council
Finnish Red Cross