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Foreigners' rights are being seriously curtailed with no overall picture of the impact on human rights

During the spring of 2024, the Ministry of the Interior has urgently prepared several amendments tightening immigration policy and restricting the rights of foreign nationals, and these amendments have now been submitted to Parliament for discussion. The amendments include changes to residence permit regulations, the adoption of a border procedure and an expansion of the scope of accelerated procedure, a tightening of the period of residence requirement under the Citizenship Act, changes to international protection permits, and a reduction of the reception allowance. A number of other proposed amendments, including to family reunification, the asylum procedure, detention, permanent residence permits and citizenship, are also under preparation.

The amendments have been prepared in the Ministry as simultaneous yet separate projects. They will implement extensive and significant amendments to the legislation governing foreign nationals, seriously curtailing their rights. Instead of an overall reform of the Aliens Act, the reforms are being implemented in a fragmentary manner, without assessing the impact of simultaneous, overlapping and consecutive amendments to the realisation of basic rights and human rights.

In their statement, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman has repeatedly stressed the need to evaluate the joint impact of these proposals. For example, according to established practice in the Constitutional Law Committee, proposed amendments and other future reforms may not have an unreasonable cumulative impact on the level of basic rights. How can this 'unreasonable level' be assessed without an overall picture of the amendments' joint impact?

It is especially important to examine the joint impact of the proposed amendments to the lives of the most vulnerable people, such as children. In December, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children submitted a brief to the Government on the impact that the proposals under preparation will have on children. The Ombudsmen stressed the necessity of conducting a joint impact assessment of the legislative projects, as well as an assessment of their direct and indirect impact on children. The contents of the legislative proposals must reflect the conclusions drawn from these assessments. The Ombudsmen noted that the planned amendments could result in restrictions or even violations of the rights of foreign children.

The Ombudsmen asked the Government to respond to the brief sent in December, but no response has been sent. The Government proposals have now been completed, and it is apparent that a joint impact assessment concerning children has not been conducted. Indeed, it appears that the amendments to legislation are being drafted with no regard to their potential overall impact on human rights.

What kinds of joint effects could the amendments have? Case study on children arriving in Finland as asylum seekers

Several of the legislative proposals affect asylum seeker children. For example, the border procedure proposal would permit the use of the border procedure for unaccompanied minors and families with children in certain situations. The children's movements would be severely restricted during the procedure, and they would not be allowed to leave the grounds of the reception centre in most cases.  This is problematic regarding the realisation of the rights and best interests of the child. Furthermore, the individual assessment of the best interests of the child would be practically impossible in a four-week asylum procedure. The EU has recognised the problems of the border procedure with regard to the realisation of the rights of the child. The legislative package on immigration recently adopted by the European Parliament would appear to set conditions for using the border procedure on unaccompanied minors that are in some respects tighter than in the national border procedure now being proposed. In other words, we would soon have to change the border procedure regulations again, since the Act would not safeguard the rights of the child as required by the EU. It would be senseless and irresponsible to now nationally curtail, for a brief moment, the rights of the child more than permitted by recent EU legislation.

A major cut will also be made to the reception allowance. The monthly allowance for a family of four would be €909, which would have to suffice for securing the family's livelihood. Reception centres have reported that even the current reception allowance, which is €1,033, is barely sufficient for the necessities of life. Even according to the legislative materials for the Act, the reception allowance would be so low that it could increase the need for child welfare measures as well as the incidence of domestic violence, family problems, reduce variety in the diet, and drive people into the breadline.  The effects of the cut to the reception allowance would be detrimental to the rights of the child and extremely inhumane.

The residence permits of children granted international protection would be significantly shorter in the future. At the same time, the period of residence required from children before being granted Finnish citizenship will be lengthened drastically. For example, after having received asylum, a family would typically have to reside in Finland for eight years before receiving citizenship, which is more than twice the currently required time. Eight years is a very long time for a child to live in constant uncertainty about the future, while residence permit durations are being shortened at the same time.

The right of the child to family life is being curtailed as part of the legislative proposal affecting child asylum seekers who have arrived in Finland unaccompanied, among others. The child's family members would be refused residence permits if there is justified cause to suspect that the child has been used as a tool for entry by sending the child to Finland in order to obtain residence permits for family members through family reunification, unless the parents' decision to send the child to seek protection in Finland must be deemed to have been based on a compelling reason related to the child's health or safety. The proposal refers to the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman's study Children without families, which found that nearly half of unaccompanied minors could not get their families to join them in Finland, because the parents were considered to have sent their child to Finland without an individual compelling reason. These children had nevertheless been found to be in danger of persecution or other serious harm in their home country in the asylum procedure. In such cases, the starting point should be that the parents have sought to protect their child by sending them away from danger. It must be noted that the right to live with one's family is a fundamental human right with special significance for children.

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration when enacting laws. The amendments being proposed curtail the rights of foreign children and put them in an even more vulnerable position. Children who have come to Finland as asylum seekers, for example, are targeted by several amendments that, when taken as a whole, lead to financial insecurity and distress, extended uncertainty about residence, and difficulties with family reunification.

Section 22 of the Constitution obliges the public authorities to guarantee basic rights and liberties and human rights. This obligation applies equally to rights enshrined in the Constitution, such as the protection of family life, equality and non-refoulement, as well as to rights protected by international treaties, such as the primacy of the best interests of the child and other rights of the child. The authorities are violating this obligation if they close their eyes to legislation's effects on the rights of people – especially vulnerable people such as children. We expect that Parliament will enforce the obligation to guarantee basic rights and liberties and human rights in full when discussing these legislative proposals.