Independent survey: adopting an integrated approach to developing the asylum procedure
The survey report provides information on the standards and efficiency of the asylum procedure and the asylum applicants’ legal protection. The survey, examining the entire procedure and all authorities involved, was the first of its kind.
The asylum procedure should be developed with an integrated approach to ensure better consideration of the asylum applicants’ views and best interest. This is the conclusion of an independent survey commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior. Best interest means that asylum applicants should find it as straightforward as possible to file a matter and to include all essential facts for consideration in the application procedure.
The purpose of the independent survey was to identify development needs concerning the asylum procedure, to examine the cooperation between different authorities and to assess the practices of the administrative courts in dealing with asylum-related issues. Another objective was to determine how the asylum procedure could be streamlined and shortened and how the quality of the procedure could be improved in future, while also better safeguarding the asylum applicants’ protection under the law.
The survey sought to provide guidelines for the authorities’ development efforts, both in the near future and in the long term.
A good start leads to a seamless procedure
The report emphasises how important a good start is for creating a seamless asylum procedure: from the beginning, the highest standards must be observed in establishing the grounds on which the applicant seeks asylum. This will both improve the applicant’s protection under the law and prevent shortcomings and mistakes that are expensive and take a long time to correct.
The interview is the most important phase of the investigation. According to the report, those involved in the procedure should continue to pay special attention to improving it. Interviewing is strenuous and it requires skill. The Finnish Immigration Service must allocate adequate human resources to interviewing, as the timetable and the need for any additional interviews may lengthen the process by months for the applicant.
The report recommends that the parties agree on the timetable of completing the procedure for each applicant group. The report also proposes that the applicants should be offered personal legal aid, provided by the authorities, before the asylum interview. Applicants must be provided with adequate information about how the process is progressing and about the applicant’s rights and obligations.
The report recommends that the standards and quality control of legal aid be improved. An hourly fee as the basis of charging for legal aid could be reinstated so that the work and the remuneration are better matched. Based on the report, the previous timeframes allowed for appeals in the asylum procedure should also be reinstated so that they correspond to the general appeal periods under the Administrative Judicial Procedure Act.
Many recommendations have already been put in practice
The report contains 21 recommendations for different phases of the procedure. The recommendations are provided under five headings:
- A common goal and a shared vision for developing practical measures (3 recommendations)
- Improving protection under the law (5 recommendations)
- Filing a matter and establishing identity (2 recommendations)
- Leadership, skills and quality (7 recommendations)
- Other themes (4 recommendations)
In the main, the recommendations are related to the development needs which the Finnish Immigration Service had also identified last year when it analysed the functioning of the asylum system. The report notes that in recent years the Finnish Immigration Service has made a special effort to improve quality control and assurance. These development measures have been implemented in order to address identified needs and shortcomings.
The authorities and other parties will have to develop further and allocate more resources to specifying the recommendations and implementing them in practice. The Government will outline possible further measures, for example based on the Government Programme which has many points in common with the survey outcomes.
For example, the Government Programme states that asylum applications will be considered without undue delays in an individual procedure that guarantees legal protection. The Government proposes enforcing the legal protection of asylum seekers by enabling the use of a counsel at asylum interviews. In addition, hourly rates for the counsels will be introduced and the general appeal periods applicable in the administrative courts will be taken into use in the asylum procedure. The general legal assistance provided for asylum applicants will be improved.
The report supports open debate
In 2015, Finland’s asylum system was confronted with a new and challenging situation when the number of asylum applicants suddenly increased tenfold. The number of new applicants has since decreased, but the system is still overburdened. In recent years, the authorities have attracted public criticism on the shortcomings of the asylum procedure.
The report provides evidence-based information about the complete asylum procedure: the wider the perspective, the higher the number of authorities that will benefit from the report. At the same time, the report will contribute to creating more a solid basis for the public debate on the development of the asylum procedure.
The survey has not looked at any individual asylum decisions.
In autumn 2018, the Ministry of the Interior invited tenders for carrying out an independent survey. Based on the received tenders, the Ministry chose Owal Group to conduct the survey independently and as an external party.
Hanna-Miina Sihvonen, Senior Specialist, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 295 488 527, [email protected] (inquiries about commissioning the survey)
Risto Karinen, Director, Owal Group, tel. +358 50 535 1820, [email protected] (inquiries about carrying out the survey)
Tiina Snellman, Migration Director, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 295 488 638, [email protected] (general inquiries about the asylum procedure)
Tiina Sinkkanen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Legislative Affairs, Ministry of the Interior, tel. +358 295 488 626, [email protected] (general inquiries about the asylum procedure)