Finland has revised its appraisal of the security situation in Iraq, deeming some areas of the country safe to inhabit. This will affect many Iraqi citizens who have travelled to Finland to seek asylum.
The Finnish Immigration Service has updated its policy with regard to Iraq. Reappraisal of the security situation in Iraq has led to a new rating of safety levels in parts of the country, influencing the authorities’ asylum decisions.
In future Iraqi asylum applications will be decided on an individual basis, however, and not the asylum seekers’ place of origin.
Finnish Immigration Service Asylum Unit Director Esko Repo says it is difficult to say how the policy change will affect the number of successful asylum decisions moving forward.
“The clear majority of Iraqi asylum applications currently being considered are at that stage in the processing process that is a waste of time to try and predict how things will play out,” he says.
“In previous years we had a very large number of applicants from the northern Kurdish provinces, but according to our latest information, today’s applicants largely represent the more southern areas and the capital region surrounding Baghdad. So I can say we probably have more applicants now that will be affected by the new policy in some way or another,” Repo says.
The Finnish Immigration Service points out that the situation in Iraq remains difficult and the internal situation in the country varies from region to region.
Conditions considered safer in Babylon and Kirkuk
Areas of Iraq where, upon new assessment, the security situation was deemed to have improved include the central Babylon province and the city of Kirkuk. The Finnish Immigration Service describes the security situation in the capital city of Baghdad to be still problematic, but this does not mean that everyone originating from there would be considered to be in personal danger due to violence.
The new security assessment of Iraq will impact asylum applications in that each will be examined and decided upon “on an individual basis, depending on the grounds the asylum seekers use for applying and how they justify their need for asylum.”
Esko Repo says that the final say on the validity of the Finnish Immigration Services’ policy update lies with the Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland, should an asylum decision be appealed.
Iraqis in Finland disagree
Engineers in their thirties, former Baghdad residents Mustafa Khalid and Mohamed Alani fled their homes to seek asylum in Finland. They are now awaiting their asylum decision at a reception centre in the northwest city of Oulu. Both disagree with the Immigration Service’s new security appraisal.
“People in Baghdad are in danger from daily car bombs, to use just one example. The city is full of Shia and Sunni militia that stop people at random and make demands. I am worried about my family; I had to leave my three children behind,” says Khalid.
Mohammed Alani says random explosions occur daily in many different parts of Baghdad. He says armed roving gangs and hostile militia move about the city robbing and kidnapping people, demanding high ransoms from the families. This happened to his own father and one of his cousins, who were both killed despite the ransoms being paid.
“Baghdad is an extremely dangerous place. The Finnish Immigration Services needs to evaluate the situation again. They have no idea what it is like to live there. The local authorities cannot be trusted,” says Alani.
Sweden has repatriation agreement, Germany no
Finland’s neighbour Sweden has a Memorandum of Understanding with Iraq to repatriate Iraqis from areas it deems safe. In practice, however, deporting those applicants who are not granted asylum is complicated by the fact that many asylum seekers do not possess proof of identity. If a person’s nationality is uncertain, many countries are reluctant to accept people being returned. Women and unaccompanied children are also difficult to deport, for in the case of children, reliable relatives must be located to receive them.
Sources at Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s publicly funded radio broadcaster, say Swedish police have real troubles implementing the Iraqi deportations. It is estimated that many who receive a negative asylum decision stay in Sweden without documentation.
As of the end of September 2015, 60 percent of Iraqi asylum seekers were granted asylum in Sweden. This figure does not, however, include people returned to other EU countries on the basis of the Dublin Regulation. This regulation says the first EU Member State where finger prints are stored or an asylum claim is lodged is responsible for a person’s asylum claim.
In Germany the corresponding positive asylum decision rate for Iraqis is 88.7 percent. Germany has no agreement with Iraq with regards to asylum seekers at present, but an agreement to enable voluntary returns was in effect from late 2012 until May of this year. During this time only 70 Iraqis were returned to the country’s northern Kurdish region.