Posted on May 13, 2009

Finland Expected to Send Hundreds of Iraqis Back Home in Coming Years

Helsingin Sanomat, May 13, 2009

The Finnish Immigration Service is likely to send hundreds of Iraqi asylum seekers back to their home country. In the Finnish view, improvements in the security situation in most of Iraq means that many of those seeking asylum no longer need protection. Many of the Iraqi asylum seekers now in Finland are likely to see their applications rejected as of next week. The UNHCR also noted in April that violence in Iraq had decreased. According to the association, the number of former refugees returning to Iraq has been slowly increasing.

The new policy line taken on by the Immigration Service, is a significant turnaround, as Finland has not repatriated any Iraqis after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The asylum seekers are to be returned to areas of Iraq considered safe by Finnish officials. These include the capital Baghdad. The Finnish immigration officials say that most of Iraq is so stable that those who originate from there do not need international protection. They are to be sent back from Finland, unless their personal circumstances justify granting them asylum, or a residence permit.

Since 2007, more asylum seekers have come to Finland from Iraq than from any other country. Last year 4,035 foreign citizens arrived in Finland, asking for asylum. Of this group, 1,255 were from Iraq. Esko Repo, head of the asylum section of the Finnish Immigration Service, expects that hundreds of Iraqis seeking asylum in Finland will be sent out of the country. He also expects fewer Iraqis to seek asylum in Finland in the future, once news spreads about the changes in Finnish policy.

The Immigration Service still considers parts of Iraq to be inherently dangerous. Iraqis from the provinces of Nineven, Salah al-Din, Kirjuk, and Dijala will be granted residence permits. To ascertain their region of origin correctly, the asylum seekers are to be subjected to a language analysis.

The new policy partly goes against recommendations made by the UNHCR in April, according to which the capital Baghdad is still dangerous, and that residence permits should be granted to people fleeing the city. Repo notes that Sweden and Norway have already sent back people to Baghdad. “Baghdad is a very large area, with about as many residents as all of Finland. The entire area can no longer be considered unsafe”, Repo says. Large-scale repatriations of Iraqis are not expected to begin very soon, as many who have been given ordered sent back are expected to appeal the decision.