UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and the Finnish Refugee Council consider the Finnish government’s draft proposal to facilitate family reunification to be a timely and vital improvement – and we appeal to the Finnish Parliament to adopt the proposal.
No one chooses to be a refugee. However, more than 82 million people are forcibly displaced in the world today. The conflicts, war, and persecution that are forcing people from their homes, are also tearing families apart.
“We see again and again, how conflicts and flight are separating families, children from parents, husbands from wives. Family life is a fundamental human right. Therefore, states must support the ability of families to reunite after displacement and ensure better and more effective access to family reunification. The safety net of society can never replace a lost family”, says Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative to the Nordic and Baltic Countries.
The right to family life is defined as a human right in the UN Declaration of Human Rights and is thus widely protected in international and EU law. In addition, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) guarantees every child the right to be cared for by their parents.
However, refugee families are today experiencing unreasonably difficult obstacles to be reunited. Various legal, financial and practical obstacles pose significant challenges to family reunification, preventing refugee families from enjoying their right to family life, especially with regard to the rights of the child. UNHCR and FRC jointly recommend Finland to address these obstacles and make effective improvements to family reunification for refugees.
We are pleased to see that the draft law proposal (released 13 August 2021) presents an improved assessment of the best interests of the child, which has in our view been lacking so far. In addition, the proposal would partially correct the changes made in 2016, which weakened the rights of beneficiaries of international protection. We therefore appeal to Finland to adopt the proposal.
Nevertheless, there are further steps needed in our view. Even with the proposed changes, family reunification would not be easy for many families, and Finland should continue the work to remove the barriers, already identified.
“The biggest obstacles to the reunion of families have been identified in the report by the Finnish Government, and concrete measures must now be taken to ensure that refugees’ right for family life is realized in Finland. As a recent member of the Human Rights Council, Finland has emphasized the rights of vulnerable people. Family reunification is a humane and effective way of bringing the most vulnerable people to safety,” says Annu Lehtinen, Executive Director of Finnish Refugee Council.
One concrete recommendation is to abolish the income requirements for all beneficiaries of international protection. Financial circumstances are one of the most significant obstacles to family reunification. Every year, around 100 children are not able to reunite with their mother or father in Finland, because the income of their parent is insufficient. It is unreasonable to demand of people who have fled conflict and persecution in their home country and might not yet have learnt to speak Finnish fluently, that they need to get a full-time job in order to qualify for being reunited with their child.
Beyond the income requirement, practical obstacles are also bereaving many refugees of the opportunity to apply for family reunification. Family members in vulnerable situations might not be able to legally travel across national borders to reach a Finnish embassy for identification purposes or may not be able to receive the necessary documents from their own country.
In order to ensure the right to family life, as protected by the Finnish Constitution, and taking into consideration the vulnerable position of refugees, Finland should prioritize improving the access to family reunification and removing obstacles that keep families apart.
The Finnish Refugee Council and UNHCR want to create awareness about the importance of family reunification in Finland with their joint #OikeusOllaYhdessä campaign. The campaign reminds people that living together as a family is, above all, a fundamental human right that must not be forgotten. The campaign is visible all over Finland and on social media from 11th to 28th November 2021.