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Issue 522/ 28th Jan - 3rd Feb 2012
More Asylum Seekers Returning Home By Choice
Helsinki, Finland, January 29, 2012 – About one tenth of asylum seekers in Finland return to their home countries voluntarily. In the past couple of years, the greatest number of asylum seekers heading home have been Iraqis. The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) is setting up a permanent system to facilitate such moves, known as Assisted Voluntary Return.
Matti Heinonen, a senior Migri official, came back a few days ago from Somaliland, where he negotiated with local officials.
"We held talks with the Somaliland government and signed an agreement with them regarding voluntary returns," he told YLE.
According to Heinonen, Somaliland, which declared independence 21 years ago, is the most democratic part of the region, with parliamentary elections and freedom of the press.
"Conditions there are more or less peaceful; the problem is not unrest but rather poverty," said Heinonen.
South of its border in Somalia proper, the situation is completely different.
"In Somalia, for instance in the Mogadishu area, there have been these military conflicts and unrest, and we don't recommend that anyone return there," he stressed.
Lower payments than elsewhere in Scandinavia
Assisted Voluntary Return began as a project two years ago in conjunction with IOM Helsinki (International Organization for Migration). Since then, 550 non-EU foreigners have gone back home to more than 50 countries.
There is growing interest in the programme, even among those who have already been granted asylum.
"Surprisingly, the biggest number of returns have been to Iraq, although it has been a problematic country. More than 100 people have gone back there, as well as large numbers to Kosovo, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Ghana," he said.
Returnees are paid for their travel expenses and also receive financial support ranging from a few hundred to 1500 euros each. Migri plans to double the amount of support paid to those returning to Somaliland. Yet the figures remain lower than those handed out by other Nordic countries.
Somaliland suffers 'brain drain'
Heinonen notes that a significant proportion of Finland's Somali population of 16,000 come from Somaliland.
"Somaliland wants educated members of the Finnish Somali community to return there, if for even part of each year, even those who are Finnish citizens. There is a need for technical know-how and many kinds of professional skills there. There is a shortage of all kinds of experts," notes Heinonen.
Of Somaliland's population of 3.5 million, an estimated half a million have emigrated, including some 200,000 to Europe.