Helsingin Sanomat International Edition 5 May 2009 (in English)
Up to a third of “underage” asylum seekers prove to be older
Up to a third of the asylum seekers who have been placed in refugee reception centres set up at the beginning of the year for unaccompanied underage would-be refugees have proven to be older than they claimed. Some of those who understated their age were found out in medical age determination tests, while personal information of others has been found in other EU countries. Some have even admitted to having previously lied about their age. “Quite recently a resident of the Parikkala reception centre came and said voluntarily that he was of adult age. The motive was not clear”, says Henry Reponen of the South Karelia police in Imatra. “Could it be that the asylum seeker wants to get into a facility for adults in a more lively community ?” At the beginning of the year, reception centres were set up in the South Karelian community of Parikkala, and the North Ostrobothnia community of Pudasjärvi for underage asylum seekers arriving in Finland alone. The centres have about 150 residents, mainly from Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
In Parikkala, police have interviewed all 80 residents of the reception centre. Reponen says that a third of the applicants proved to be adults. Another third were so-called “Dublin cases”, who had come to Finland from another EU country - usually Greece, Italy, or Malta. “Some are both. One, who claimed to be 15 years old, had been granted a residence permit in Italy as a 25-year-old”, Reponen says, adding that less than half of the asylum seekers housed in Parikkala were what they said that they were - underage asylum seekers for whom Finland was the first EU country that they had entered. At the reception centre in Pudasjärvi, in North Ostrobothnia, a third of the 65 residents there have been interviewed. Juha Häkkinen of the local police, says that the experiences do not “significantly” differ from those in Parikkala. “Here, only one has conceded to being an adult. Those whose outward appearance suggests that they are adults are sent to age determination tests. The results are not back yet”, Häkkinen says.
A police officer who interviewed the asylum seekers says that Finnish social benefits, which are better than in many EU countries, attract some of them to Finland. An asylum seeker in Finland gets over EUR 300 a month in welfare payments, which is nearly ten times the amount that they would get in Germany. “It seems that the level of Finnish social benefits is better known by them, than by our own civil servants. Very many say openly that they have come to Finland for money. They are very open especially when they know that they will have to leave Finland”, Henry Reponen says. “Some boys say that they can get money for discos in Finland. Others say that they send money back home. Many live on minimum food, and then they can send some money back home.”
Last year the number of unaccompanied minors coming to Finland exploded. There were 706 applicants in 2008, while there were fewer than 100 in the previous year. The growth has led to suspicions of the use of “anchor children” ; minors are granted asylum more easily than adults, and are entitled to get their parents and Siblings to Finland. The government decided to commission a study on how asylum policy should be developed, and whether or not there are factors that especially attract asylum seekers to Finland. The study is to be completed by the end of May.
Number of unaccompanied minors decreasing ?
The number of asylum-seeking unaccompanied minors coming to Finland seems to have started decreasing during the first quarter of 2009. While there were 111 minors seeking asylum in Finland in January, there were only 30 in April. So far in May, 10 registrations have been lodged. Last year, records were broken when Finland received over 700 unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers. It might still be too early to say whether the decrease is of permanent nature, since the numbers of asylum-seekers usually always decrease in the spring. Migration Minister Astrid Thors estimates that the decrease could at least partly be due to asylum-seekers knowing about the recent increase in age testing in Finland. Helsingin Sanomat 13 May 2009 (in Finnish)
Age testing to a halt due to lack of guidelines
The police in Southern Carelia Region in South Eastern Finland has stopped age tests on young asylum-seekers. The decision was made after a statement from Deputy-Ombudsman Jukka Lindstedt, according to which the tests are questionable as there are not laws or guidelines in place as to who can perform the tests and using which methods. According to Minister of Immigration Astrid Thors, the tests do not violate basic rights and can be carried out if the person being tested agrees to it. However, the minister promised to start a process to formulate a new law regarding the tests, but it will not be ready until this autumn the earliest. Last year Finland received 706 minor asylum-seekers, and this year the number is already 260. Stopping the test might lead to even longer queues in the asylum process and place further pressure on overcrowded reception centres.
YLE 28 May 2009 (in Finnish)