Many Iraqis abandon Finnish asylum process to return home

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) visiting a reception centre for asylum seekers in Finland in December 2015.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) visiting a reception centre for asylum seekers in Finland in December 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

HELSINKI (AFP) - Nearly 70 per cent of Iraqi asylum seekers in Finland whose applications were processed last year have abandoned their claims, with many returning home instead, officials said Friday.

Statistics from the Nordic country's immigration service revealed Finland processed 3,700 Iraqi asylum seeker decisions in 2015 and nearly 2,600 of the decisions were "expired", meaning the applicants had either cancelled the process or disappeared.

"They have told us that family issues in their home country force them to go back. Some have found the Finnish atmosphere hostile and some have not stayed because of the dark autumn and cold winter," said Juha Simila, head of asylum department at the Finnish Immigration Service.

Simila said applicants were disillusioned by the processing time, which increased when the number of asylum seekers jumped from 3,650 in 2014, to 32,500 in 2015.

Nearly 20,500 Iraqis applied for an asylum, but authorities were only able to give decisions to 3,700.

One Iraqi who decided to return said Finland was different from what he had expected.

"I don't know what happens to me in Iraq, but here I will die mentally," Tareq Thajeel Ajaj from southern Iraq told Finland's largest daily Helsingin Sanomat in December.

In October, Finland tightened its criteria for granting asylum to Iraqi migrants, after deciding the security situation had eased in certain regions.