Let’s challenge Finland’s disgraceful family reunification obstacles

by , under Enrique

Migrants’ Rights Network (MRN) of Britain shows how organizations can do valuable work in lobbying for change against unfair family reunification laws (see Migrant Tales 28.6.13). Politicians, who have tightened such laws, are short-sighted and have created a tragedy for those who live separated from their loved ones. 

The same suffering that separated families suffer in Finland are similar to the tragedy they are going through in other European countries like Britain.

“During the year since the Government announced its changes to the family migration rules, MRN has heard from hundreds of families who have been kept apart from one another – couples split across continents, young children separated from parents, elderly relatives kept apart from relatives who wish to care for them in the UK,” writes MRN.

Tighter family reunification requirements came in force in 2011. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the main factors behind these changes was the anti-immigration Perussuomalaiset (PS) party’s growing popularity in the polls and its historic election victory in April 2011.

New rules that came in force in two years ago have made family reunification ever-complicated and costly. One big change in the rules is that family members must now apply in their home country or at the nearest Finnish embassy. As a general rule, the minimum that a three-member family must make monthly to bring their loved ones is 2,880 euros, according to the Refugee Advice Center.

Family reunification applications have plummeted as a result of tightened rules. In 2012, there were just over 500 applications compared with 1,900 in the previous year and 3,900 in 2010. All in all, there were 8,600 application in 2012. Finnish Immigration Service (FIS) reported earlier that at the end of 2011 there were a total of 6,100 family reunification application by Somalis alone. According to the Refugee Advice Center, only 329 family reunifications took place on average annually between 1999 and 2010.

How do the new rules make life ever-difficult for refugees and immigrants and how are they kept in limbo? The answer to that question is simple: How would it feel to live separated from your loved ones for years and with little hope that your family will ever be reunited in Finland?

Some of the problems of righter rules are highlighted on Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter: “Tightening the rules for family reunification would put the protection of the right to family life under severe risk. In response to the current political climate as it relates to refugees, the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre, the principal non-governmental organisation offering legal aid for refugees, has issued a statement on the risks of tightening the policy on family reunification in Finland.  Rules are already very strict, constituting an obstacle to refugee integration for those already settled in Finland, who continue to live in uncertainly regarding their families.”

While FIS claims lack of and to handle the backlog of thousands of applications, the real reasons are anti-immigration Christian Democrat Interior Minister PäiviRäsänen and unofficial efforts to stop as many Somalis as possible from moving to Finland.

Under Räsänen, Finland continues, despite obligations under international laws, to detain as a first resort children seeking asylum for long periods of time. The interior minister, whose tough stance on immigration and refugees is liked by the PS, has said publicly that  homosexuality is a sin.

Even if it may be in vogue in some circles to be against immigrants and cultural diversity in Finland, politicians, the media and public must look further ahead in the future. Do we want to assist in destroying and fragmenting the lives of thousands of people who are already traumatized by war and displacement?

That is exactly what we are doing as long as we continue on the present path.

A good start would, however, be to challenge the unfair family reunification rules.

The example of the fine work by the Migrants’ Rights Network would help us draft a plan in Finland.