Why are children interviewed during the asylum process?
Children have the right to be heard in decisions that affect them. It is in the best interests of a child that his or her opinion is taken into account when such decisions are made.
Another reason for interviewing children who apply for asylum together with their family is that the children may also have their own grounds for asylum.
Under the Aliens Act, the Finnish Immigration Service has an obligation to hear all children over the age of 12 before making a decision that affects them. Even a younger child may be heard if the child is sufficiently mature to have his or her views taken into account. In addition, the agency has a principle of hearing all unaccompanied minor asylum seekers regardless of age.
What is the interview like?
Interviews with children consist of free narrative, meaning that the child can give their own account. In asylum matters, interview is the most important method to find out what a person has to say about their situation.
Children are interviewed in the presence of their parents, and the parents can participate in the discussion. In addition to the child and his or her parents, there is also an interpreter and a Finnish Immigration Service employee present at the interview. The Finnish Immigration Service uses trained employees who are specialised in interviewing children.
Usually, the interview takes between one and two hours. To make the child feel safe, part of the interview time is used to get to know each other.
What is meant by a child’s ‘best interests’ in the asylum process?
The ‘best interests’ of a child is a principle of law that must always be followed when the Finnish Immigration Service makes decisions affecting children.
The best interests of a child are assessed individually on a case-by-case basis. When a decision is made, the overall situation of the child is taken into account. This includes the child’s personal background, situation and needs.
When a best interests assessment is made, several viewpoints are taken into account. The primary criterion is security. A child’s grounds for international protection may be stronger than an adult’s. Children may also have their own grounds for asylum independently of their parents. There are also forms of persecution that only affect children. All this, together with the security situation in the child’s home region, is taken into account in asylum decisions.
When a child’s best interests are assessed, we take into account the child’s family ties and other close relationships as well as the child’s religious, linguistic and cultural background. Also any individual needs concerning, for instance, the child’s development or health are taken into account.
What does the law say about interviewing children?
In Finland, provisions on interviewing minors are laid down in the Aliens Act (see section 6 of the Aliens Act).
The Finnish Immigration Service has been conducting separate interviews with all co-applicants who have turned 12, and the agency will keep doing so even in the future. That is a statutory duty. The agency has also interviewed younger co-applicants if it has been deemed necessary.
Interviewing minors is and has been an important way of assessing what would be in a child’s best interests in his or her situation.
Children are always interviewed in accordance with their age and maturity. This is a statutory duty laid down in the Aliens Act.
Why do you interview children whose parents have converted to Christianity?
If a child is a member of a religious community, it can affect the child's risk of facing persecution in his or her home country. A person’s religion may constitute grounds for asylum.
Conversion to Christianity may affect a child's daily life in Finland even when he or she is young. The child may, for instance, have participated in church activities.
Naturally, children may be in risk of facing persecution because of other reasons as well. Sometimes, however, these events may have affected the parents in their home country or a long time ago. In such cases, it may not be necessary to interview the children.
Why would a government authority ask people about their religion?
Religion can constitute grounds for asylum. The public authorities responsible for deciding on asylum have a statutory duty to clarify the matter. This means that the authorities must ask applicants about religion if they state that they are in need of asylum because of their religion.
There are both national and international rules and regulations that aid and guide the investigation of asylum applications that are based on religious grounds.
To find out more about the grounds for asylum, see the page What are the grounds for asylum.
How is the parents’ right to determine their children’s religion fulfilled?
Under law, parents determine their children's religion. The Finnish Immigration Service never takes a stand on which religion a child should practise.
Parents are invited to be present at their child’s hearing, and they can participate in the discussion.
Children are never asked to assess their parents’ faith in a hearing.
What is a child able to tell about his or her situation?
Interviewing a child is necessary if the matter in question affects the child and if the child can be assumed to have information about the matter.
In the hearing, the child can be asked for instance about what it means to him or her to be a member of a Christian congregation and what the child’s own opinion about this is.
The purpose of asking such questions is to gather additional information about how the child is in risk of persecution. However, the aim is not to use the child's statement against the family. A child’s statement alone cannot determine whether the family is granted asylum or not.
Children are always interviewed in accordance with their age and maturity.
What if children say something that contradicts their parents’ statement?
A child’s statement cannot be the only factor that determines the outcome of a family’s asylum application. If something exceptional comes up, the agency may later ask the parents about it separately.
The purpose of interviewing children is not to use their statements against the family. On the contrary, the aim of the hearing is to see whether the children have anything to add to their parents’ statements.
Children can even have their own grounds for international protection that have not come up before.