Non-governmental organisations ask that members of parliament vote against the stricter conditions of family reunification

Stefan Bremer / Suomen Punainen Risti
Image: Stefan Bremer / Suomen Punainen Risti

The Finnish parliament will cast their final vote on the government’s motion on the stricter conditions of family reunification. A total of 17 non-governmental organisations are appealing to the MPs to abandon these cruel and short-sighted new conditions. The organisations include refugee organisations, human rights groups and children’s rights organisations.

If the MPs approve the government’s motion, a person receiving international protection would need to have an unreasonably high income in order to unite their family. There are now plans to extend the income requirement even to the separated families of refugees.
This would mean that an increasing number of refugees would be denied the chance to have their children, parents or spouse come to live in Finland. The income requirement also applies to refugee children who have arrived in Finland without a guardian.
The children who have come to Finland alone would have to prove that they can provide for their families. This would require a level of income that even most Finnish adults cannot reach.
“The government’s motion is short-sighted and cruel. Family reunification is a legal and controlled way to reach safety. If this opportunity is practically ruled out, the family members will have to rely on smugglers and use dangerous routes,” says Niina Laajapuro, the director of Amnesty Finland.
The organisations demanding the MPs to reject the stricter conditions of family reunification are: Amnesty International Finland, the Finnish Refugee Council, the Refugee Advice Centre, the Finnish Red Cross, the Finnish Committee for UNICEF, Plan, Finn Church Aid, the Central Union for Child Welfare, Save the Children, the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare, the Martha Organisation, the SOS Children’s Villages, the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters, Trasek, the Finnish Association for Mental Health, and the Feminist Association Unioni.

The only concession to family reunification was abandoned

The intention was to make it easier to submit the family reunification form by enabling the proceedings via an electronic system.
However, progress on the government motion’s only concession to refugee families has been frozen. The reasons behind the freezing were political, as it would have been technically possible to implement this feature. 
“The government’s decision is short-sighted, since being apart from one’s family makes a person’s integration into society more difficult. The measures promoting integration and the resources invested in this will be in vain if the person spends all their energy on worrying about their family’s safety,” says Annu Lehtinen, the director of the Finnish Refugee Council.
For example, if a Syrian woman who has been granted subsidiary protection wanted to bring her husband and two children to Finland, her net income would have to be 2,600 euros a month.
The same income requirement also applies to persons with a refugee status if their family members are not able to request family reunification within three months from the decision on granting asylum.
In reality, three months is an impossibly short time for the application proceedings. The family members of the person who has been granted asylum must submit the form to one of Finland’s few embassies that are usually located far from the conflict zones.
Due to the limited resources of the embassies, receiving an appointment to submit the form can take months. For example, Syrians must take a difficult and perilous trip to Turkey, to the Finnish embassy in Ankara, whereas people from Afghanistan must travel to New Delhi, India.
“The time limit is unreasonable. If it is not possible to submit the family reunification form electronically, the parliament should at least extend the time limit of three months. Otherwise it is practically impossible to submit the form within three months in a conflict zone in order to avoid the unreasonable income requirement,” says Elina Castrén, the director of the Refugee Advice Centre.  

Human reconsideration depends too heavily on the authorities

Finland’s Aliens Act already provides the opportunity to deviate from the income requirement if a child’s welfare or some other exceptionally significant reason demands it.
However, this exception is rarely used. A good example of this is the case of a family from Iraq, recently reported by the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
It is problematic for the rights of an individual that the legislation depends so heavily on the consideration of the authorities. 
“Both the legislation and its interpretation are very strict. Although both the government and the authorities are aware of this strictness, they want to make family reunification even more difficult,” the organisations state. 
The existing legislation on family reunification is already extremely strict, as the conditions were tightened in 2010 and 2012. At the time, the submission of the family reunification forms was made so difficult that the number of submissions plummeted.
This is why the organisations demand that the government at least investigate the effects of the current legislation before creating new restrictions.