Quota refugees. A familiar phrase – but how do people become quota refugees and how do they get to Finland? IOM handles a lot of the logistical steps along the way from the refugee camp to the airport in Vantaa making sure they have a safe journey.
Resettlement activities under IOM started many years ago in 1951, but in the Nordic countries IOM Finland started handling the resettlement in 2006 for Finland, Sweden and Denmark. Before that these activities were handled by IOM Geneva. Finland started taking refugees already in the year 1970.
Gaining refugee status
IOM works closely with governments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), non-government organizations and other partners when it comes to the whole process of resettling quota refugees.
The refugee status process begins with UNHCR. The people who flee from their countries for various reasons first need to make an application with UNHCR. After the application is made UNHCR interviews the applicants and - depending on the outcome of the interviews - gives them a refugee status or not. Then the cases granted refugee status are submitted to third countries for resettlement consideration.
Once and if they are accepted, IOM starts the resettlement service process.
One thing to keep in mind at this stage is that IOM is not the one who is accepting or deciding which refugees go to which country. This is the decision of the receiving countries.
Sometimes we cooperate with UNHCR to provide the practical arrangements like arranging the selection missions when the countries want to go and select the refugees. In the selection missions we manage the practicalities of assisting the refugees to come to the interviews, arrange interview rooms, provide translators, baby sitters and the equipment needed while conducting those interviews.
What is the operational work?
When it comes to the work we do in the operations department at IOM Finland it is, as the name suggests, on the operational side of the process. That means moving the people to their final destination in the country they are resettling into.
In this capacity, IOM Finland manages all refugee resettlement and family reunification related operations for Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. The office coordinates IOM’s global service delivery in this important migration management field and liaises with IOM missions in the countries of origin and transit.
We are usually the ones who are in direct contact with the departments in the governments that deal with the resettlement. When the donors inform us of the dates they want to go on the selection missions we communicate that to our colleagues working in the destination countries.
Stretchers and escorts
Once the cases are accepted the refugees might need to have health assessments, to see if the person is fit to travel or if they have any medical needs. Sometimes escorts and stretchers are arranged. Depending on the country they are going they may have Pre-Departure Orientation, where they are given information about their destination country.
Finally, we arrange the travel. That includes checking if the refugees have all the documents needed for travelling and if not, getting these documents. We do the bookings and assist the passengers in departure and transit airports. Most of them might be first time travellers who have never flown in an aeroplane before.
Time to integrate in the new society
Upon arrival to Finland the Finnish Red Cross provides the quota refugees with arrival assistance. Sometimes personnel from the municipality, where the refugees are being settled, will come directly to pick them up from the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.
If the passengers need to travel further inside Finland we at IOM Finland, make all the travel arrangements and the Finnish Red Cross volunteers will guide them at the airport.
IOM Finland is starting a new project together with the Finnish Refugee Council and the Diaconia University of Applied Sciences to help with the information continuum from the refugee’s departure country to the municipalities.
The resettlement countries provide refugees with legal and physical protection, including access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights like those enjoyed by nationals. Most refugees eventually become naturalized citizens of their country of resettlement.
Quotas shrink and grow
Until 2016 Sweden accepted 1900 quota cases yearly, but now they have increased the number to 3400 persons in 2017 and to 5000 for 2018. With this Sweden takes the highest number of quota refugees when it comes to the Nordic countries.
With the increase in the Swedish quota the missions in the sending countries are having a massive workload of checking all the documents and arranging the travel as the donor has requested. Due to this increase we at IOM Finland have now one person from the operational unit who is dedicated to handling only the Swedish quota cases.
Finland takes an annual quota of 750 per year, Iceland about 50 and until 2016 Denmark had an annual quota of 500 per year. There haven’t been any resettlement activities carried out with Denmark from 2017 onwards as the country has stopped accepting any refugees until further notice.
The main nationality which were resettled to the Nordic countries in 2017 were Syrians (almost 40 %), followed by Eritreans, stateless Palestinians, Somalis and Afghans.
Not an option for all
Resettlement is seen as a vital international protection tool and as a durable solution for some of the most vulnerable people in the world, who are unable to return to their country of origin for fear of continued persecution and do not have the option to stay on in the first country where they have applied for refugee status.
Though resettlement is not an option for the vast majority of refugees, it gives real hope and a chance to begin a new life to many who would otherwise have neither home nor country to call their own.
The services provided under resettlement:
- Logistical arrangements
- Facilitation of exit permission, immigration formalities ad verification of travel documents in the country of first asylum
- Transportation, including routing, booking, ticketing, and preferential baggage allowance up to the final destination
- Escort of passengers through immigration procedures and assistance with embarkation, including visa waivers as needed
- Pre-departure health assessments, medical history and physical examination
- Pre-embarkation fitness to travel
- Special assistance through medical and non-medical escorts
- Arrival assistance
- Purchase of clothes, food and beverage upon request
The author works as an Operations Assistant in the Resettlement and Movement Operations department at IOM Finland.