The following questions and answers have been prepared by UNHCR in light of the developments at Finland’s eastern border.
Is the eastern land border of Finland completely closed for people seeking asylum?
Yes, as of 30 November 2023 all crossing points at the eastern land border are temporarily closed.
On 17 November 2023, the Government of Finland decided to close the four border crossing points at Imatra, Niirala, Nuijamaa, and Vaalimaa in the southeast of Finland. On 22 November, three additional border points at Vartius, Salla and Kuusamo, were closed, leaving one border crossing point open at Raja-Jooseppi in northern Finland. On 28 November, the Government announced that the final border crossing point at Raja-Jooseppi would also be closed as of 30 November for two weeks until 13 December.
How many asylum applications has Finland received?
Overall, in 2022, Finland received a total of 5,827 asylum applications. In 2023, as of October, a total of 3,568 asylum applications have been received.
In addition, Finland received 47,302 applications for temporary protection in 2022 (mainly in the context of the war in Ukraine) and 17,807 such applications as of October 2023.
It is reported that almost 1,000 people have arrived in Finland through the border with the Russian Federation in recent weeks, mostly originating from Somalia, Syria and Yemen, compared to less than 100 in the first six months of the year.
Under international law, may Governments close border crossing points?
Governments have a legitimate right to control their borders, in accordance with their international obligations and in respect of international refugee law. Even in cases when borders are closed, States must guarantee and safeguard the rights of those seeking international protection in accordance with national, European and international law and as such give access to the territory and the asylum procedures.
According to the European Court of Human Rights, where a State has made available a genuine and effective possibility to apply for international protection, for example, at specific border crossings, the State may refuse entry at other points along the border. However, a complete closure of the border preventing asylum-seekers from seeking asylum is contrary to international law and to the principle of non-refoulement.
What is the meaning of the principle of non-refoulement?
The principle of non-refoulement refers to the universal and binding obligation of States not to remove any person to a country where (s)he would face torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or other irreparable harm. This is a cardinal protection principle, most prominently expressed in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It is a norm of customary international law and restated in other international and regional human rights instruments.
The prohibition of refoulement applies to all people without discrimination. It applies to refugees, including those who have not been formally recognized as such, and to asylum-seekers whose status has not yet been determined. The prohibition of refoulement is applicable to any form of removal, including deportation, expulsion, extradition, informal transfer or ‘renditions’ and non-admission at the border.
Are there any exceptions to the principle of non-refoulement?
The principle of non-refoulement applies in all situations, including in emergencies, mass influx and times of armed conflict. The absolute nature of the prohibition of refoulement to a risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment has been affirmed by the European Court of Human Rights.
While the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, in its Article 33 (2), foresees certain exceptions to the principle of non-refoulement, like any exception to the human rights guarantees, exception to the principle of non-refoulement must be interpreted restrictively and with full respect to the principle of proportionality. The application of Article 33 (2) requires an individualized determination by the country of asylum that the person concerned constitutes a present or future danger to the security or the community of the host country.
What about access to the asylum procedure in Finland?
The Finnish authorities are responsible for examining and deciding on asylum applications. The Finnish authorities have stated that they will examine all asylum applications made by those who have crossed the official crossing points at the eastern border. A negative decision can be appealed to one of the administrative courts in Finland. An applicant who receives a positive decision will receive a residence permit in Finland.
What kind of support is UNHCR providing to the Government of Finland?
UNHCR is in regular dialogue with the Government of Finland and stands ready to provide technical support. UNHCR works with the Ministry of Interior to support legal and policy developments in asylum and statelessness matters.
What kind of support is UNHCR providing to asylum-seekers?
UNHCR advocates for asylum-seekers’ and refugees’ access to territory and the right to seek asylum.
UNHCR works with its partners in Finland to offer advice and assistance to asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons. For further information, please visit the UNHCR Help Page for Finland https://help.unhcr.org/finland/where-to-find-help-in-finland/.
This FAQ was updated 30 November 2023.