Report: Still room for improvement in the asylum procedure but no systematic errors
Based on a report made by the Finnish Immigration Service, decisions on asylum applications largely meet the criteria laid down in the law. Deficiencies in the quality of interpretation of asylum interviews and processing of asylum applications were, however, detected. It is likely that the number of deficiencies became bigger than normal following a sudden tenfold increase in asylum seekers in 2015 and a need to quickly increase the amount of human resources required for the process. A large number of development measures have already improved the quality as processes have been streamlined, training has been enhanced and the staff have gained more experience.
Most of the people who came to Finland between 2015 and 2016 and were refused asylum have appealed the decision or submitted a new application. This means that their applications are processed at least twice. The Finnish Immigration Service prepared, at the request of Minister of the Interior Kai Mykkänen, a report on the quality of the asylum procedure and the related decision making. This report was published in Helsinki on 14 June.
"When it comes to those over 40,000 applications submitted over the past three years, there seems to be no systematic errors which would result in decisions that do not comply with the criteria for international protection laid down in the law. A state governed by the rule of law must, however, make efforts to ensure legal protection as well as possible. For this reason, I wanted the Finnish Immigration Service to assess whether there have been any deficiencies in the processing of asylum applications. I consider it important that the development measures listed in the report will be implemented," says Minister of the Interior Mykkänen.
Quality of interpretation assessed through spot checks
The Finnish Immigration Service assessed the quality of interpretation between May and June 2018 by choosing randomly 30 recordings of asylum interviews (Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Somali) and ordering new, precise translations of these interviews. Each translation report was compared with the transcript made of the interview in question. Out of the 30 transcripts, there were two interviews with persons who had converted to Christianity where there were differences between the scopes or the contents of the transcript and the translation report. These differences could have been significant to the evaluation of the application. In these two cases, however, the differences did not affect the content of the decision, but the applicant’s ability to provide information on his or her case was assessed in a somewhat different light during the spot check.
The observations made during the spot checks call for further examination. In its conclusions, the report proposes that a set of measures be taken to improve the quality control of interpretation. The quality of interpretation plays a significant role particularly in asylum matters.
Quality of decisions made by the Asylum Unit under continuous control — no serious errors detected
At least one decision by each rapporteur working at the Asylum Unit was selected randomly and assessed during a spot check in 2017. During the checks, particular attention was paid to the decisions refusing asylum, because the number of errors in the interpretation of the law and of procedural errors had climbed up to 3.8 per cent in 2016. Some errors and deficiencies were detected in these decisions, and they were repeated in the decisions, regardless of the performance area and when the check was conducted.
The most common errors were due to the fact that single facts had not been approved or rejected in decisions, i.e. the rapporteur did not take a clear stand on them, the reasons for or the actors of persecution were not identified in accordance with the given guidelines nor were they adequately justified. According to the report, these single errors in decisions were not, however, significant in terms of the final outcome. Nevertheless, steps will be taken to make the guidelines more specific in this respect.
No clear differences in policy guidelines on countries of origin between Finland and Sweden
The Finnish Migration Service compared Finland’s and Sweden’s policy guidelines on Iraq and Afghanistan that were issued between 2014 and 2018. Based on this comparison, it is not possible to say that one of these countries would have a significantly stricter practice than the other, although the policy guidelines have varied in both countries. For example, Finland has sometimes considered that there are areas in Iraq where extreme violence occurs whereas, at the same time, Sweden has been of the opinion that there are no such areas and vice versa. In general, it can be said that in recent years Finland and Sweden have made fairly similar estimates of the security situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Over the past few years, Finland has received asylum seekers particularly from Iraq, and specifically from the Baghdad area and its surroundings. One of the key reasons for the increasing number of decisions rejecting applications for international protection is that the number of asylum seekers from the more peaceful part of Iraq, namely southern Iraq, has grown. It has also been assessed that the security situation in Baghdad has improved to the extent that Baghdad is now considered a possible area of internal flight.
Asylum procedure must continue to be assessed as a whole
A total of 28 development measures were listed in the report, ranging from better access to advice for asylum seekers to the inclusion of different organisations in the process of evaluating the policy guidelines on countries of origin.
The Finnish Migration Service assessed the quality of the asylum procedure based on its own assessment and quality development measures, the oversight of legality and the appeal procedure. In addition to the policy guidelines, interpretation and asylum interviews, efforts were made to examine a total of 63 decisions that the administrative court had returned to the Finnish Immigration Service because the consideration of facts varied in these decisions. In these cases, the appellate court assessed the facts of the case, such as the applicant’s circumstances or country information, differently than the Finnish Immigration Service.
"The recent internal report responds to the need to introduce development measures that can be implemented within a short period of time. This, however, does not rule out the possibility of commissioning a more extensive independent report on the matter," says Minister Mykkänen.
The report made by the Finnish Immigration Service is not a scientific research but rather an administrative description of the asylum procedure and the areas that need to be further developed. The report covered only a small part of the asylum procedure. At a later stage, it will also be necessary to consider the other areas of the procedure. The recent report did not, as a rule, cover issues concerning minor asylum seekers, but in future they should be reviewed separately, as a whole.
Hanna Helinko, Director of Legal Service and Country Information, Finnish Immigration Service, tel. +358 295 433 057, firstname.lastname@example.org
Titta Andersson-Bohren, Special Adviser, tel. +358 50 513 1539 (requests for interview with Minister Mykkänen)