Finland to ease family reunification for refugee children
Habat Wardhere came to Finland when he was 14. Image: Markku Pitkänen / Yle
Finland will relax its policy on young refugees who apply to join with their families, following a European Union ruling. Under the new guidelines, refugee children have a right to family reunification even if they turn 18 during the application process. The matter was first reported by Helsingin Sanomat.
Until now Finland and other European Union countries have terminated the family reunification process after the applicant reached adulthood. Because Finnish law cannot contradict EU legislation, the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) must change its current policy.
”We will select all the cases where the EU’s new ruling applies and make sure there are no inconsistencies,” says Sanna Helariutta from Migri.
In future, young persons who have been recognised as refugees can apply to be reunified with their families if the request for asylum has been filed before their 18th birthday. In addition, the application for reunification must be submitted to Migri no later than three months after the asylum request has been approved.
In recent years, it has been difficult for young refugees to bring their families to Finland, with Migro approving about 7 percent of all requests. Of the 291 family reunification applications that Migri received between 2011 and 2015, 21 requests were granted. Within the past 12 months, Migri has started 75 family reunification processes, where guardians of young refugees in Finland want to reunite with them.
The UN’s children’s organisation UNICEF criticised Finland in March for violating the rights of asylum seeker children by detaining them and deporting them to countries it says are unsafe.
Teenage years without mother
The new ruling will not affect decisions already made which cannot be appealed. One such case is that of Habat Wardhere, who came from Somalia to Finland as a 14-year-old, fleeing the terrorist organisation Al-Shabaab.
Habat’s brother who had arrived in Finland earlier started the reunification process to have their mother join them. However, the brother turned 18 before Migri made its decision and as a result the process was suspended.
21-year-old Habat wonders what his teenage years would have been like, had his mother been in Finland. ”I remember the feeling of having spent the day outside with my friends and when it came time to go home. My friends got calls from their moms asking about their whereabouts. Nobody asked me where I was.”
”I hope the young people going through the family reunification process now will have it easier than me and my brother,” he adds.
Nevertheless, Habat is pleased that his life is going well. He learned to speak Finnish quickly, studied to become a medical technician, found work and has a family now. He became a Finnish citizen last year.
In addition, his mother is safe as the security situation in Mogadishu has improved significantly in recent times. Habat is planning to travel to Somalia this summer to visit his mother, whom he has not seen for seven years.
”I still ask where my home is. I’m not entirely sure. I spent my teenage years in Finland and became an adult here. But have I left Somalia altogether?”
Habat used to think he would return to Somalia one day. ”I’m still a bit lost. But I foresee that my future is here in Finland.”