The sanction imposed last week to Finland by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) already had its first consequence. The Helsinki Police Department announced last weekend a suspension of deportations of Iraqis whose residence permit applications have been rejected. Only those who have committed crimes in Finland will be returned.
The decision, which has been widely criticized in some extreme right-wing political circles, came two days after the ECHR ruled that Finland violated articles 2 and 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in relation with the case of Ali, an Iraqi man who came to Finland in 2017 in search for international protection. The Finnish Immigration Service and later the Administrative Court rejected his application and he was sent back home, where he died shot in the street a few weeks later.
This was the first time Finland has been discovered to violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR ruled that Finland will have to pay 20,000 euros to the victim's daughter for damages plus other 4,500 euros for costs and expenses.
Two days later, the Helsinki police announced through their Twitter account the suspension of Iraqi returns "with the exception of criminal-based returns". The police message also said that "for other countries, the situation will be investigated".
Poliisi pidättäytyy toistaiseksi palautuksista Irakiin pois lukien rikosperusteiset palautukset, joita jatketaan edelleen. Myös muiden maiden osalta tilannetta selvitetään. Poliisilla ei ole tässä vaiheessa muuta kommentoitavaa. #poliisi— Helsingin poliisi (@HelsinkiPoliisi) November 16, 2019
The police announcement was immediately endorsed by the Minister of the Interior, Maria Ohisalo, from the Green Party. She said on Twitter that the ECHR decision is "shameful for Finland" and she has asked senior officials in her department to assess how to ensure that such a thing does not happen again.
"The right to life cannot be violated", she stated.
Poliisin ratkaisu on perusteltu. Se antaa työrauhaa tilanteen selvittämiselle.#EIT:n langettava on Suomelle häpeällinen. Pyysin johtavia virkamiehiä arvioimaan, miten voimme varmistaa, että vastaavaa ei enää tapahdu. Palautuskieltoa ja oikeutta elämään vastaan ei voida rikkoa. https://t.co/MXnMEoSBEG— Maria Ohisalo (@MariaOhisalo) November 16, 2019
The victim's return had not been voluntary
The victim was returned to Iraq under the voluntary return program of the Finnish Government. But the Strasbourg Court validated the applicant's claim, which argues that Ali's return to Iraq was not voluntary, "but had rather been forced on him by the Finnish domestic authorities' decisions."
According to the victim's daughter, who brought the case to Strasbourg, her father had not wanted to attract the attention of the Iraqi authorities by being forcibly returned and had not wanted to have a two-year Schengen area visa ban.
The Court concluded that "the applicant's father would not have returned to Iraq if an enforceable expulsion decision had not been issued against him and so his decision had not been voluntary in the sense of being a free choice."
The Finnish immigration service (Migri) has remained silent on this issue so far. Paradoxically, the title of its last press release, dated two days before the ECHR decision, says: "Reintegration of voluntary returnees to Iraq from Finland has succeeded to a fair extent".