Assessment by UNHCR finds best interests of the child to be a primary consideration in asylum decisions issued by the Finnish Immigration Service
At the request of the Finnish Immigration Service, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has assessed how the best interests of a child are considered in the asylum procedure in Finland.
The Finnish Immigration Service works closely together with UNHCR in matters concerning international protection. This cooperation is one way of improving and developing the decision-making process in asylum matters. Similar assessments of other central areas of the asylum procedure have been conducted by the UNHCR Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries at the request of the Finnish Immigration Service from 2018 onwards.
“When a decision affects a child, the best interests of the child must always be considered. What these interests are is assessed individually on a case-by-case basis for each child. That is why these considerations always require making interpretations. UNHCR has, amongst other aspects, looked at whether the best interests of a child are treated as a primary factor that affects the asylum decisions,” says Tirsa Forssell, Head of Legal Services, from the Finnish Immigration Service.
The assessment was conducted in 2021–2022 and included an analysis of 50 decisions issued by the Finnish Immigration Service between December 2018 and February 2021. The decisions examined involved 87 children in total.
Mostly, the findings of the assessment are positive, confirming that the Finnish Immigration Service does treat the best interests of a child as a primary consideration in asylum decisions. However, the UNHCR assessment also presents several recommendations to the Finnish Immigration Service on the processing of children’s asylum applications and on how to improve it further.
Best interests of the child are a primary consideration in decisions
According to UNHCR, the Finnish Immigration Service has an established practice of considering the best interests of a child as part of national asylum proceedings and to take these interests into account as a primary consideration.
UNHCR welcomes the clearly structured analysis and legal reasoning concerning the best interests of children, which were found to be present in most of the 50 decisions assessed.
“In recent years, we have made improvements in the structure of the legal reasoning in decisions by, for instance, separating the assessments of evidence and risk. This increases the clarity of the decisions and ensures that both factors are assessed with care,” says Forssell.
The Finnish Immigration Service has detailed internal instructions on the processing and deciding of children’s asylum applications. The purpose of the instructions is to promote consistency of decisions and to ensure that there is sufficient expertise in considering the best interests of a child.
In addition to this, the Asylum Unit has Special Senior Advisers whose task is to support interviewers and decision-making case officers in questions concerning underage asylum seekers.
Further, the UNHCR report appreciates that age-specific factors are recognised by the Finnish Immigration Service and that the age of an underage applicant is taken into consideration in asylum interviews by, for instance, allowing the child sufficient time to answer questions and by providing breaks.
UNHCR is an important partner
A close cooperation with UNHCR is one way of improving and developing the decision-making practice in asylum matters. However, UNHCR’s guidelines are not the only ones to steer the decision-making at the Finnish Immigration Service: legal practice and the precedents issued by the Supreme Administrative Court are always binding on the Finnish Immigration Service.
UNHCR provides the staff of the Finnish Immigration Service with annual training in questions related to international protection.
In its assessment, UNHCR recommends that considerations concerning the child’s best interests should be clearly set out in all asylum decisions involving children.
Further, UNHCR recommends that the Finnish Immigration Service ensures that children are always heard, also when a child applies for asylum with adult caregivers. Additionally, UNHCR recommends that decision-makers specialised in interviewing children should be available in all offices of the Finnish Immigration Service.
“Children who are 12 years of age or older and who apply together with their family are always heard by the Finnish Immigration Service, which is a requirement laid down in the Aliens Act. The Asylum Unit has recently revised its practices, and therefore children even younger than that are now more often heard,” says Forssell.
Interviewers receive training in hearing minors already during their initial orientation period at the Finnish Immigration Service, and further trainings and instructions are provided. Unaccompanied minors are only interviewed by the Senior Advisers who have completed training provided by the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) on interviewing children. In 2021–2022, nearly 30 Senior Advisers have completed this training.
In Finland, asylum can be granted to persons who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their country of origin for reasons of ethnic origin, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Each asylum seeker’s need of international protection is assessed individually.
Tirsa Forssell, Head of Legal Services, tel. +358 295 433 037, email: firstname.lastname@example.org