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Refugee children’s family reunification and EU court verdict

Published : 22 May 2018, 10:31

Updated : 22 May 2018, 19:30

  DF Editorial Desk

Refugee people at a reception centre in Turku. DF File Photo.

The May 8 ruling of the European Court of Justice investing the child refugees with the right to pursue the family reunification process even if they reach the legal adulthood before the process ends is a definitive policy decision of high and wide import. The decree demands some significant changes to be brought in the Finnish emigration practice and approach.

First of all, although as per the Finnish law, a family reunification process should be cancelled once the applicant child turns 18, the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) is now obliged to follow the EU court’s directives. Migri has already declared to do so.

If the rule is implemented, the refugees recognised as unaccompanied minors can apply to be reunited with their families, if their request for asylum was filed before their 18th birth anniversary. In addition, such an application must be submitted to Migri no later than three months after the approval of the applicant’s asylum plea.

The refugee children have been facing a number of difficulties in Finland. The immigration authorities so far have approved only 7 per cent of the family reunification applications. Of the total 291 applications submitted to Migri in 2011 to 2015, only 21 were granted. And in the last one year only 75 such applications have entered the process.

Besides, in March this year, the United Nations Children Organisation Unicef criticised the role of Migri for violating the rights of asylum-seeking children by detaining and deporting them to countries that it said were not safe.

Against this background, we welcome both the EU court’s ruling and the acquiescence of Migri to go by it, because, as we see, it will help create opportunities to redress the sad lot of a number of refugee children going without parental care and protection.

At the same time, the authorities concerned should take steps to ease and remove any hardship that the refugees may face at the reception centres, as a research report of the Police University College on May 7 said an asylum seeker at a reception centre is either a suspect or a victim of a crime. The study found assaults, intimidation, property offences, sexual offences, and offences against reception centres and their staff as the most common crimes. One of the researchers said a prime cause of such crimes was the inmates’ dissatisfaction at the condition of the centres, which later expressed as crimes targeting the reception centres and their staff in the hope that it might get him/her transferred to another, may be better, centre.

We think Migri should take these issues into serious consideration and take measures to resolve them. The authorities concerned should follow the law, but the implementation of the law has to be done from a humanitarian perspective and with a commitment to help the helpless. Even if there are any legal issues that counteract the humanitarian grounds, the authorities should point them out so as to bring amendments to the law. The authorities also need not to wait for directives from the European Court of Justice on other refugee issues so that all the member states of the EU can act in synchronicity in coping with the refugee crisis.

Note: An article on this subject was earlier published in the Lapin Kansa, a leading Finnish language newspaper from Lapland. Click Lapin Kansa to read the article.