Two years since the autumn of 2015 – what is the asylum seeker situation now?
In 2015, more asylum seekers arrived in Finland than ever before. One September week is particularly well etched in the memory of the employees of the Finnish Immigration Service: during week 39, a total of 3,939 asylum seekers were registered. This was exactly two years ago. What has happened in asylum matters since then and what is the situation now?
Number of asylum seekers has returned to its 2014 level
In 2015, a total of 32,476 persons applied for asylum in Finland. The majority of them arrived in the autumn. Most of them were young Sunni Arab men from the Baghdad region in Iraq. The asylum seeker profile differed slightly from the profiles in Sweden and Norway, as in these countries, a large share of the asylum seekers were Iraqi families with children.
Many Iraqi asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 withdrew their applications in the autumn of 2015. These withdrawn applications are included in the number of expiry decisions issued to Iraqis in 2015: a total of 2,556 decisions. In 2016, the applications of nearly 3,000 Iraqis expired.
In 2014 – before the record-breaking year 2015 – a total of 3,651 asylum seekers arrived in Finland. The number of applications has now returned to the 2014 level. This year, a total of 3,560 applications were submitted by the end of August. This number includes more than 1,500 subsequent applications by persons whose first applications have been rejected. The number of subsequent applications is usually not this high.
Asylum seeker numbers and nationalities affected by the EU relocation scheme
As a sign of solidarity towards the EU Member States that receive the most asylum seekers, the other Member States have committed to receiving a certain number of asylum seekers who have arrived in Greece and Italy, and to processing their applications.
To date, a total of 1,975 asylum seekers have arrived in Finland from Italy and Greece. Asylum seekers relocated within the EU have increased the monthly number of asylum seekers. If relocated asylum seekers are excluded from the number, the monthly number of asylum seekers has fallen below the 2014 level.
The majority of asylum seekers who have been relocated to Finland have been Syrian and Eritrean. For this reason, Syria and Eritrea appear among the top three countries in this year’s statistics on asylum seekers. Iraqis still submit the most asylum applications.
Many relocated asylum seekers have already received decisions on their applications. The majority have been granted asylum in Finland.
Hundreds of new employees recruited to the Asylum Unit in 2016
After the autumn of 2015, nearly 500 new public officials were recruited to the Asylum Unit of the Finnish Immigration Service. This temporarily multiplied the number of Asylum Unit personnel: in May 2016, it employed 589 persons, 545 of whom worked within the asylum process.
Upon the termination of the fixed-term contracts of the employees hired during the backlog of asylum applications, the number of employees decreased again. In August 2017, the Asylum Unit employed 233 persons, 184 of whom worked within the asylum process. The number of employees will again increase slightly next year when the Asylum Unit will have 255 employees.
Between 1 January 2015 and 31 August 2017, a total of 36,988 asylum interviews were conducted and 42,822 decisions were made. Two new offices were opened in Vaasa and Rovaniemi for the processing of applications. They were closed in the beginning of 2017.
The majority of asylum seekers who arrived in Finland in 2015 received the first decision on their applications in 2016. Some have had to wait for a decision until this autumn because of the backlog of applications. At the end of September 2017, approximately 600 asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 are still waiting for a decision. Decisions on the final applications remaining from 2015 will be made by the end of October 2017.
Backlog of asylum applications shifting to Administrative Courts
By the end of July 2017, Administrative Courts had processed 4,076 appeals against decisions made by the Finnish Immigration Service. The courts rejected 72.3 per cent of the appeals, thus confirming the decisions made by the Finnish Immigration Service.
Almost all other appealed decisions were returned to the Finnish Immigration Service. In most of these cases, the asylum seeker had provided new information about his or her situation during the appeal process, given new grounds for the application, or the situation in his or her home country had changed between the decisions made by the Finnish Immigration Service and the court.
In three per cent of the decisions returned to the Finnish Immigration Service, the agency had made an error. This is within the limit set by the Ministry of the Interior, according to which errors may only occur in up to five per cent of the decisions.
Large number of converts to Christianity are a new phenomenon
Compared to earlier years, the Administrative Courts return an unusually high number of decisions because the applicant has provided new information. If an applicant provides new information while his or her appeal is being processed by an Administrative Court, the court returns the matter directly to the Finnish Immigration Service.
Almost 70 per cent of decisions returned for this reason were submitted by Iraqis or Afghans and the asylum seekers in question provided new information about their situation by stating that they had converted to Christianity.
Decision-makers of the Finnish Immigration Service are experts in refugee law
Throughout the early 2017, the internal legality control of the Finnish Immigration service concentrated on proactive legality control. In other words, the focus was on exceptionally extensive personnel training, analysis of cases returned by the Administrative Courts, and communications concerning these cases.
Legality control is performed through spot checks where at least one decision is reviewed per each Senior Adviser. It is also performed by means of themed sampling, for example reviews on families with children with the emphasis on the realisation of a child’s best interest. Because of the training, legality control has been very meticulous in some areas: the reviewers also looked at the properties of decisions that were correct but whose wording, for example, had room for improvement.
Trainings and instructions have enabled Senior Advisers to improve their expertise even further since 2015 and 2016. Asylum decisions were mostly made very well also in the preceding years, and the new employees performed their extremely challenging tasks well. Additional training has strengthened professional competence, and the Senior Advisers making asylum decisions are highly skilled experts in refugee law.
Quality of decision-making developed through an EU-funded project
On 1 February 2017, the Asylum Unit launched a project called “Quality control – a systematic method for the assessment and compilation of statistics of the quality of asylum decision-making”, abbreviated as LAAVA. The project is funded by the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) of the European Union. The project will last 18 months. Its goal is to develop means to assess and develop the quality of asylum decision-making, based on the best practices from other EU Member States. The key assessment method will be the use of electronic quality assessment forms which are currently being developed and tested. The forms will be used to conduct sample-based assessments whose purpose will be to help supervisors systematically plan and target internal training.
Further information for the media
Press and Communications Services, Finnish Immigration Service, tel. 0295 433 037, firstname.lastname@example.org
Monthly figures on applications and decisions are available for closer review in our statistical service.