Questions and answers undocumented people

Jussi Partanen / Finnish Red Cross
Image: Jussi Partanen / Finnish Red Cross

Who is an undocumented person?

An undocumented person is someone who resides in a country without a legal right of residence. A newly undocumented person is someone who has stayed in a country after having their application for asylum rejected. Undocumented persons are often in a particularly vulnerable position.
When an asylum seeker’s application for asylum is rejected, they can appeal the decision. If the appeal is also rejected, the asylum seeker in question will no longer be eligible for reception services after a certain deadline. The asylum seeker is offered the chance to return voluntarily. If they cannot or do not want to return to their home country, they often become an undocumented person. 

Who helps undocumented persons?

The authorities are responsible for helping undocumented persons. According to Section 19 of the Constitution of Finland, “those who cannot obtain the means necessary for a life of dignity have the right to receive indispensable subsistence and care”. In practice, this should at least mean having food, a roof over their heads and access to emergency health services. Children have the right to go to school. According to Section 22 of the Constitution of Finland, “the public authorities shall guarantee the observance of basic rights and liberties and human rights”. Everyone residing in Finland has these rights regardless of their legal status. 
In the Red Cross’s opinion, municipalities should ensure that the rights of undocumented persons are realised and provide services of consistent quality across Finland. It is for the benefit of all that appropriate steps are taken to prepare for the situation and assistance is provided to vulnerable people.

Why does the Red Cross aid undocumented persons?

The operations of the Red Cross are steered by the organisation’s most important principle: the principle of humanity, aiding people in need. The Red Cross helps vulnerable people regardless of their legal status. Nations have acknowledged the right of the Red Cross to have access to all immigrants and provide them with humanitarian aid and protection as demanded by the organisation’s mandate.

How does the Red Cross aid undocumented persons?

The Red Cross informs asylum seekers living in reception centres about the end of their eligibility for services and the date by which they must leave the centre. We also tell them of the possibility of voluntary return and the support available for it, in addition to informing them what it means to stay in Finland as an undocumented person.
After an asylum seeker is no longer eligible for services at a reception centre, the responsibility for aiding them passes primarily to the district offices of the Red Cross in the Red Cross aid chain. Before a person leaves a reception centre, the personnel at the centre make sure that the person leaving has a place to go. The Red Cross does not abandon anyone.
Undocumented persons are provided with food, accommodation supplies, clothes and someone to talk to. The Red Cross organises aid together with organisations which aid undocumented persons as well as other communities and the authorities.

How does the Red Cross influence the position of undocumented persons?

The Red Cross acts and asserts influence in order to promote a humane refugee policy. We aim to make it possible for a temporary residence permit to be granted to those who are otherwise at risk of becoming undocumented and to make sure that the humanitarian situation of undocumented persons is not undermined further with legal amendments or practices. 
The Red Cross aims to make sure that even undocumented persons who do not want to return voluntarily to their home country have the right to indispensable subsistence and essential services.