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Closing borders to those seeking asylum in Finland sets a dangerous precedent, warns UNHCR

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Closing borders to those seeking asylum in Finland sets a dangerous precedent, warns UNHCR

22 May 2024
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Finland’s eastern land border with the Russian Federation, which is some 1,300km long, has been closed since mid-December 2023. UNHCR recognizes Finland’s unique and challenging geopolitical position and its legitimate right to control and manage its borders. UNHCR welcomes some amendments to Finland’s new law proposal on temporary measures to combat the instrumentalization of migration, including the recognition of the importance of individual assessments, but highlights that access to the territory and the asylum procedure must be possible for all those seeking protection. 

The draft law would allow for the denial of access to territory for those seeking asylum, violating international and European law. It may also set a precedent for dismantling asylum-related obligations, with an adverse effect on the international protection system. 

“Even in times of emergency or so called instrumentalization, countries must guarantee that those seeking protection have effective access to an asylum procedure. A possible consequence could be pushbacks, as we have witnessed at some European borders. Pushback practices put people in danger, too often resulting in severe injuries, split of families or even deaths,” says Philippe Leclerc UNHCR’s Regional Director for Europe. 

States can both address security concerns and implement fair and humane policies towards asylum-seekers, in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention. Seeking safety from war, conflict and persecution is a fundamental human right. Alternatives to pushback policies include: 

  • Implementing border procedures as outlined in the EU Pact, with legal and practical safeguards that comply with international refugee law; 
  • Strengthening fair and efficient asylum procedures, which swiftly identifies vulnerable people in need of immediate support as well as those who are not in need of international protection; 
  • Expediting dignified returns to countries of origin for individuals not in need of international protection. 

“Many of those seeking international protection are people with serious vulnerabilities which may not be immediately visible, such as those suffering from trauma or survivors of torture or gender-based violence.  This is why we advocate for a fair and effective asylum procedure which is undertaken by a central and competent authority, with procedural safeguards in place.” added Annika Sandlund, UNHCR’s Representative for the Nordic and Baltic countries. 

In the last year, Finland has embarked on the reform of its asylum system through presenting some 30 different policy and law proposals. We call on Finland to enact legislation in line with its international obligations. UNHCR stands ready to discuss the current and other relevant law proposals with the authorities in line with its mandate and supervisory responsibility on international protection.