Finnish Red Cross: We need humanity in our asylum seeker and refugee policy

Jarkko Mikkonen
Image: Jarkko Mikkonen

Today, once again, on World Refugee Day, the UN refugee agency UNHCR reports the number of people trying to reach the shores of Europe and those drowned at sea during the journey. Images of drowned refugees catch the interest of people every once in a while, but the fate of these people is ignored more often than not.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement operates worldwide to help people who have had to flee their home country. The Red Cross is there to receive, protect and help people suffering from both natural disasters and conflicts alike.

People who have been forced to leave their home country are susceptible to many dangers. They are far away from their families, tired and distressed. In Europe, they are faced with discrimination and xenophobia, and they are not considered full members of society.

The Finnish Red Cross is concerned about the situation of asylum seekers both in Europe and in Finland. A statement on changes to the Aliens Act and indifferent legal advisers by the President of the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland, a report by independent researchers on the position of those seeking international protection in Finland and a study on the treatment of asylum-seeking children by Unicef all speak to the harsh reality: the position of those seeking international protection has been significantly weakened in Finland.

EU countries are currently discussing a reform of the asylum system. The changes aim to streamline the asylum procedure in order to allow for a simpler and quicker assessment of the need for international protection. Indeed, Europe should come together and bear responsibility for those who are most vulnerable, including asylum seekers and refugees.

Bearing responsibility calls for humanity in asylum and refugee policies. This requires that decisions are made in compliance with the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. People should be met with respect and everyone should have the right to seek asylum.States should be determined in ensuring that those seeking international protection are guaranteed an individual, fair and efficient asylum procedure and that they are provided with information on their rights.

It is important to respect a family’s right to remain together and to observe the needs and the good of minors arriving without a guardian. It must also be ensured that humanitarian aid, shelter, health care and psychosocial support are available, and that those requiring help are able to access it without fear of being arrested or deported. Helping must not be criminalised. Detention must only be utilised as a last resort, and the detention of children should be forgone altogether.

Organisations and volunteers play an important role in supporting the integration of asylum seekers and refugees. Red Cross volunteers are the first contact asylum seekers or quota refugees have in the way of integration: they work in the reception unit and meet people at the airport. We consider the emphasis on integration as a two-way process to be important: on the one hand, we must support those moving to Finland based on individual needs, and on the other hand, we must strengthen the ability of communities to receive newcomers. The Red Cross is happy to volunteer its expertise when municipalities plan and implement the reception of refugees. Cooperation between the authorities, organisations and immigrants will yield the best results in terms of rapid integration.

Migration is an on-going, global phenomenon, not a temporary crisis in Europe. We should all act to ensure that human dignity and international law are respected at all times. We should also try to prevent the causes of migration, i.e. the effects of catastrophes, environmental disasters, violence and persecution.

Refugees should be more than nameless numbers in statistics on drownings, for example. Those fleeing their home country are people and they all have their own story. They have the right to be seen and receive help when they need it. 

The Finnish Red Cross hopes for humanity in refugee and asylum seeker policy.

Kristiina Kumpula
Secretary General of the Finnish Red Cross