Last Friday, 20th of November, the Finnish flag was raised to poles for the first time in honor of the international World Children’s Day. One of the day’s mission is to raise awareness about children’s rights and to bring up to discussion children’s wellbeing, which is continuously under threat by wars and crises around the world. I got inspired by this day and wanted to dedicate this blog post to examine the status of children and minors, who have come to seek asylum in Finland alone without their guardians.
This has been a current topic in our country this year, as Finland committed to receive refugees from the infamous southern European refugee camps, that my fellow blogger Deric mentioned in his second post called Abandoned at the shores of Europe. Our government decided in February 2020, that Finland will receive 175 refugees from the camps of Greece, Malta, Italy and Cyprus, to seek asylum here. Worth noticing is the fact that Finland wanted to accept only those who are in most vulnerable position: part of these refugees are single-parent families, majority of them being unaccompanied minors. First of these minors arrived here in July. (Yle)
Finland’s decision to offer help and bring them here is a wonderful gesture, but to me it seems inexplicable and unfair, that this does not happen until the situation at the camps has turned into a humanitarian disaster. It seems unreasonable especially after I read, that in this year’s summer, there were 1400 empty refugee centre places. This is because during 2020, Finland has received a half less asylum seekers compared to last year. Many centres have also been shut down due to this. (Aamulehti)
Somehow this might be explained with the fact that unaccompanied minor asylum seekers are not being accommodated into regular reception centres, but into group homes, supported housing units or private accommodation. The Reception Act (746/2011) defines, that once the minor has been accommodated, a representative must be appointed to every unaccompanied minor. The representative is assigned by Finnish District Court and the person’s main task is to help the minor with official matters, and for example participate in the asylum interview. The guardian’s job is not to nurse or take part in the upbringing of the child, but to supervise the child’s best interest and to assist in the asylum process.
There is no special qualification required for the representative, but usually the person is someone, who works in the field of social work. It is mandatory though, that the representative cannot be related to the applicant nor be a worker of the reception centre the applicant is accommodated in. Background in working with kids, immigrants or in child protection is truly an advantage for a representative. As this blog is aimed for social services students, I hope this information was useful to anyone pondering on their future career plans. From the webpage of The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) I found a toolkit for guardians of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, which provides lots of practical information, support and guidelines for future representatives.
Unaccompanied minors, just like adult asylum seekers, usually possess a traumatised background and often the minors have been forced to leave their parents and family behind to horrible circumstances. This emphazises the importance of the services that support their wellbeing once they have arrived here. Minor asylum seekers have the right to the same social and health care services as Finnish residents, which includes child welfare services and right to study.
Minor asylum seekers are in especially vulnerable position, so their odds of getting international protection is very high. If for some reason the terms for asylum do not fulfill, a minor usually gets a residence permit on compassionate grounds (oleskelulupa yksilöllisen inhimillisen syyn perusteella). Duration of this permit is one year, after which the person can apply for extended permit, which is for 1-4 years.
Since minority is a strong ground for asylum, I was curious to find out, what happens, when the minor reaches legal age. According to the Finnish Immigration Service, the person can get an extended permit, as long as certain requirements are fulfilled. These requirements can be that the applicant has not committed crimes in Finland, that he/she is integrating here well and for example, studying. The fact that they have gotten their first residence permit based on international protection or compassionate ground, does not stop them from applying for residence permit based on work or studying. After turning 18, they are also entitled to after-care supported by the state, until they turn 21. To sum up, I would say that they have good circumstances to build up a life in here despite their harsh background, and in time it is possible for them to start considering family reunification process to bring their family here.