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ETMU and We see you ry: Finland must protect refugees also during the COVID-19 pandemic

The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are complex. They show how we are all interconnected beyond state borders, and how the health of everybody depends on each individual’s choices. However, to what extent people can influence their choices varies greatly. While the pandemic certainly touches us all, its consequences are the gravest to those who are already in a marginalised position.

We are worried about the health and safety of refugees in the current situation, and urge the government to take steps to minimise the risks and harm of people living as refugees in vulnerable positions. 

Firstly, we welcome the decision by the Finnish government to relocate 175 unaccompanied minors and families with one parent from camps in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. This is a positive step forward, and we hope that the relocations will take place as soon as possible. The conditions in the camps were inhumane already before COVID-19: they continue to fail in providing their strained residents with the space, hygiene and care necessary to stay healthy.

While a total of 1,600 refugees will be relocated to Finland and seven other EU states, the number of people living in camps in Greece alone is 40,000. We ask the government to work for further relocations and a joint European response to evacuate all camps and ensure the safety of these people fleeing wars and persecution. We furthermore ask the Finnish government to implement the right to seek asylum in all of Europe also during these exceptional times.

Secondly, although deportations from Finland are not taking place at the moment, foreign citizens are still being detained for the purpose of ensuring their removal from the country. Other European countries, such as the UK, have released detained migrants. Since the reasons for detention expired, we urge that people held in detention to be deported are released. Afghanistan has informed the Swedish police that they will not accept forced returnees. The Swedish police have announced that they stopped deportations to Afghanistan. We ask the Finnish government to stop deportations during and after the pandemic and to announce it clearly.

Thirdly, we ask that Finland follows Portugal’s example in granting temporary residence permits to all those with pending asylum or residence permit applications to ensure their access to healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic and improve the possibilities to support those who were laid off from work.

As Global Clinic, which normally provides healthcare for undocumented people, is closed, it is up to municipalities to make sure everyone is granted the right to healthcare. This means that people are in unequal positions at a national level, as the practices differ among municipalities. Undocumented people might also fear contacting authorities.

People waiting for a residence permit decision who were laid off from work may lose their income, which in turn can complicate their access to other residence permits.

Fourthly, we ask the government to take the opportunity to advance cooperation with the Immigration Services to ensure that people whose residence permit decisions depend solely on their lack of passport are granted an aliens’ passport. The COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the borders further preclude Iraqi and Afghani people from travelling to their embassies in Sweden to apply for a passport. The cooperation between the government and the Immigration Services in this sense should continue also after the end of the pandemic, as according to the law people waiting for an asylum or residence permit decision can in no way travel beyond Finnish borders.

We further wish to highlight that people living in reception centres must be provided with adequate possibilities to follow hygiene recommendations, as well as information on networks providing legal aid in residence permit processes online or via phone. We applaud YLE for providing up-to-date information in several languages. If anybody is left unprotected during these times, everybody will pay the consequences.

We see you ry