September 30, 2015 / 8:10 AM / 2 years ago

Finland shelves decisions on Iraqi and Somali asylum claims

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland said on Wednesday it has suspended decision-making on asylum claims by Iraqis and Somalis while it continues to assess the security situation in the two countries.

Iraqi asylum seekers walk in a refugee center in Lahti, Finland September 25, 2015. REUTERS/Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva

The Finnish Immigration Service said it might tighten guidelines for granting people asylum after the assessment is completed within a couple of weeks, indicating that some claims may not be based on genuine fear of war or persecution.

The suspension concerns only some tens of asylum seekers whose claim would have been decided now, said Jaana Vuorio, the head of the Nordic country’s immigration service.

Finland has in recent weeks experienced a growing influx of asylum seekers coming over the land border at Tornio, near the Arctic Circle, after a long journey through Sweden.

Around 17,000 asylum seekers have reached Finland this year, among hundreds of thousands who have streamed into Europe from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Of those now in Finland, 69 percent came from Iraq and 10 percent from Somalia. Last year, a total of 3,600 came to Finland.

Vuorio said there were some differences in asylum guidelines between Finland and other European Union states. “In other countries, it isn’t enough if one seeks asylum only (based) on the fact that he or she is coming from Baghdad, for instance.”

Interior Minister Petteri Orpo told Reuters earlier in September that Iraqis were flowing in from Sweden - one of the most favored destinations for migrants - because of Finland’s existing large Iraqi community, and because Helsinki had eased asylum criteria.

“Apparently, it is slightly harder to get asylum from Sweden. But we will review our legislation now and we want to be on the same level with Sweden,” Orpo said.

Some EU states have balked at taking in asylum seekers, regarding many of them more as migrants keen to improve their standard of living than as refugees fleeing war, or citing the newcomers’ Muslim faith as a threat to their Christian culture.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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