Saturday. 23.09.2023

Finland backs EU plan to pre-screen migrants at borders and speed up returns

The department headed by Maria Ohisalo also considers that "when correctly implemented," this new mechanism would contribute to the objective of strengthening the external borders.

Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo.Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk.
File photo of Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo. Photo: Jussi Toivanen/Vnk.

Finland's government expressed on Thursday 12 November, in its communications submitted to Parliament, its position on the European Commission's proposals to reform the migration and asylum policy. 

The Commission issued a comprehensive communication on the reform on 23 September. The changes focus on more and faster deportations of rejected asylum seekers and a permanent mechanism to unburden the borders of front-line states.

"If you don't have the right to stay, you will be returned. And this is what European citizens ask from us," EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said during the presentation of the long-awaited package almost two months ago.

One of the key suggestions is that all asylum-seeking arrivals would be subject to a mandatory pre-entry screening process, including a health and security check.

Within a maximum of 5 days, it would be decided whether to send the person through the normal asylum procedure or an expedited border procedure, which would take a maximum of 12 weeks, including appeals.

Human rights organizations such as Oxfam expressed concern that this border procedure might lead to even more people being detained at the EU's external borders.

Internal security

In a press release, the Finnish Ministry of the Interior welcomed the new system because it "would create uniform rules for the handling of irregular migrants."

According to the Finnish government, the screening process would consist in a "a data collection phase" that would establish the person's identity, register the person in the database and ensure that the person does not pose a threat to internal security or public health.

"After the screening, applicants for international protection would be referred to the asylum process and the others would be returned to the country of origin or transit," the Ministry says.

The department headed by Maria Ohisalo also considers that "when correctly implemented," this new mechanism would contribute to the objective of strengthening the external borders. 

"The government welcomes the fact that the Commission's proposal would create common EU-wide practices for the processing and registration of persons who have entered the Schengen area without authorisation."

However, the Ministry of the Interior also remarks that "the introduction of screening requires that the fundamental rights of individuals and the protection of privacy are strictly safeguarded. It is also important that the realisation of fundamental and human rights is monitored by an independent party."

Demands for further clarification

Another major change proposed is that member states examine an applicant's asylum application during the border procedure when the applicant comes from a country of origin whose citizens have, on average, a low recognition rate in the asylum procedure in the Member States.

During the border procedure, applicants would remain close to the border.

Finnish government believes that "effective examination of applications, prevention of unfounded applications and rapid referral of those who have received a negative decision to the return process" would also make it possible to grant protection to those who need it quickly.

In this sense, the government considers it important that there will be an individual assessment of the grounds for an application in all asylum procedures and that the legal protection of applicants will be ensured in the processing.

"We need further clarification of the legal grounds for and conditions of the border procedure at EU level. The government has certain reservations about the Commission's proposal to limit appeal only to a court of first instance in the border procedure," the government says.

Solidarity mechanism

The proposal is likely to face opposition from all sides. Previous attempts to approve similar reforms have failed.

Countries at the edge of the bloc such as Greece, Italy or Spain have long called for a complete reform of the asylum system. Under current EU rules, the country where people first arrive generally has to process their asylum claims, meaning countries with external borders carry a disproportionate burden.

While some countries argue for a mechanism to automatically redistribute asylum seekers, others - such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Hungary - strongly oppose this.

The Commission's proposal would create a solidarity mechanism binding on EU Member States, which would, in situations of migratory pressure, shift the responsibility for applicants onto other member states in addition to those located at the external borders. The solidarity mechanism would also be applied to the situation of asylum seekers disembarked in a country following search and rescue operations.

The Finnish government considers it "important that a permanent solidarity mechanism that is binding on all member states be established in the EU." However, it stresses that to enable an effective operation of the system it is important that all member states participate extensively in relocations.

Finland backs EU plan to pre-screen migrants at borders and speed up returns