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The assessment of internal flight in asylum decisions is being developed with support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

11.2.2019 13.10
Press release

At the request of the Finnish Immigration Service, the UN refugee agency UNHCR has reviewed asylum decisions in which the immigration service has applied the internal flight alternative. Internal flight refers to an assessment of whether an asylum seeker who has fled their area of origin can find protection elsewhere in the home country.

Cooperation with the UNHCR is one way of developing asylum decisions. The assessment is a continuation of the review on asylum decisions and procedures, made in June at the request of the Ministry of the Interior, in which internal flight was one of the themes.

A total of 53 decisions from 2017 and 2018 were reviewed, 25 of which had been made for Iraqi and 28 for Afghan nationals. These only included decisions in which the Finnish Immigration Service had not granted international protection to an asylum seeker, because it was deemed that they could relocate elsewhere in the home country.

The Finnish Immigration Service has required internal flight from asylum seekers quite rarely. In total from January 2017 to June 2018, 159 rejections due to internal flight were made for Afghan and 65 for Iraqi nationals. During the same period, a total of 2,052 asylum decisions were made for Afghan and 5,704 for Iraqi nationals.

Internal flight must be reasonable for the asylum seeker

The possibility of internal flight is determined for all asylum seekers at risk of persecution or serious harm. However, this must be safe, possible and reasonable for the asylum seeker. These factors are emphasised by the UNHCR as well.

The UNHCR paid attention to, for instance, how asylum seekers themselves are heard on internal flight and how persecution perceived earlier influences an assessment of whether internal flight is reasonable. According to the UNHCR, in some cases where persecution perceived by an asylum seeker earlier had been accepted as a fact in a decision, the Finnish Immigration Service could have justified more precisely why the asylum seeker was no longer in danger for this reason.

The UNHCR also stated that, in assessments of internal flight, the security situation had been assessed extensively, but the status of human rights in the area had been given less focus.

Asylum decisions are always based on individual consideration. The personal circumstances of the asylum seeker are also taken into consideration in an assessment of internal flight. For instance in the case of families with children, the Finnish Immigration Service always makes an especially careful assessment of whether internal flight is reasonable, and in practice internal flight has rarely been required from families with children.

The decision-making procedure has been developed before as well

The Finnish Immigration Service is constantly controlling the quality of its decisions on the agency’s own initiative as well. Comments issued by the UNHCR are carefully reviewed within the Finnish Immigration Service.

"The evaluation issued by the UNHCR largely highlighted the same factors we had observed earlier during monitoring carried out by the agency. We continue to utilise the results as we refine the asylum decision process and train our employees" says Annika Lumikari, the Director of the Legal Service and Country Information Unit of the Finnish Immigration Service.

Legal practice has also affected assessments of internal flight in recent years. For instance, an asylum seeker’s own view of the territory of internal flight is heard in a more detailed manner than before.

In addition to legal practice, such assessments are also influenced by the situation in the asylum seekers’ countries of origin. Decisions are always made on the basis of real-time information on the countries of origin of the applicants. If the situation in the countries of origin changes, decision-making practices within the agency are altered. Last autumn the Finnish Immigration Service evaluated that the general situation in Kabul with regard to internal flight had deteriorated.

The UNHCR is an important partner

The Finnish Immigration Service is engaged in close cooperation with the UNHCR. In the 1951 Convention of Refugees, the UNHCR was charged with the task of "supervising international conventions providing for the protection of refugees".

The guidelines of the UNHCR are not the only directions guiding the decision-making process of the Finnish Immigration Service. Legal practice and the Supreme Administrative Court’s guidelines are always binding on the agency.

Annika Lumikari, the Director of the Legal Service and Country Information Unit, says that the UNHCR has also commented on the agency’s country guidelines. Country guidelines are regularily prepared on the security situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. These guidelines include an assessment of the types of situations in which asylum seekers can be granted subsidiary protection on the basis of the security situation in their home country.

Furthermore, the UNHCR provides employees of the Finnish Immigration Service with training on questions related to international protection. Upcoming training events are related to themes that have arisen in reports on internal flight.

Please see our website for observations by the UNHCR on decisions concerning internal flight.

Further information for the media

Annika Lumikari, Director of the Legal Service and Country Information Unit, tel. +358 (0)295 430 431, e-mail [email protected]

FACTS: Internal flight

  • The possibility of internal flight is determined for all asylum seekers at risk of persecution or serious harm; i.e. whether it would be possible for them to relocate to another area in their home country.
  • Internal flight must be safe, possible and reasonable for the asylum seeker. These decisions are made on an individual basis and take the personal circumstances of the asylum seeker into consideration.
Press release