Changes to the asylum procedure continued to affect asylum-seekers negatively. Support services for women who experienced domestic violence remained inadequate. Legislation on legal gender recognition continued to violate the rights of transgender people. Draft legislative changes limiting the right to privacy were proposed.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
Many changes in the law introduced in 2016, including restrictions of the right to free legal representation and reduced time frames for appeals, continued to affect refugees’ and asylum-seekers’ rights. The likelihood of asylum-seekers being forcibly returned to countries where they might be at risk of human rights violations (refoulement) was increased. The government had not evaluated the combined impact of these changes by the end of the year.
Family reunification remained difficult for most refugees due to both legislative and practical obstacles, including high income requirements.
Despite international NGOs raising concern, Finland continued to forcibly return asylum-seekers whose applications were rejected to Afghanistan.
Contrary to international standards, the authorities continued to detain unaccompanied children, and families with children, based on their immigration status. There was no time limit on detaining families with children. In February, “directed residence” was introduced as a new form of deprivation of liberty for asylum-seekers and migrants. It meant that asylum-seekers had to report to a reception centre up to four times a day.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
Legislation on legal gender recognition continued to violate the rights of transgender people. They could obtain legal gender recognition only if they agreed to sterilization, were diagnosed with a mental disorder, and were aged over 18. Despite an April decision by the European Court of Human Rights condemning sterilization, the government did not consider amending the law.
Violence against women and girls
NGOs and state institutions working to combat violence against women and girls remained systematically under-resourced. Neither adequate and accessible walk-in services nor long-term support services for survivors of violence were in place. Existing legislation did not sufficiently protect institutionalized or hospitalized individuals from sexual violence.
In May, the first Sexual Assault Support Centre was opened at the Women’s Hospital in the capital, Helsinki. Finland still lacked a nationwide, accessible service network for victims of all forms of sexual violence, which could also provide long-term support.
In January, an Administrative Committee on Coordination on violence against women, as required by the Istanbul Convention, started its work to enhance the implementation of the Convention and facilitate work to prevent violence against women. However, neither women’s nor victims’ support organizations were represented in the Committee and it was also inadequately resourced.
Right to privacy
In April, draft civilian and military intelligence legislation was published. It enabled the acquisition of information on threats to national security by giving military and civilian intelligence agencies permission to conduct communications surveillance without any requirement for a link to a specific criminal offence.
Conscientious objectors to military service continued to be punished for refusing to undertake alternative civilian service, which remained punitive and discriminatory in length. The duration of alternative civilian service was 347 days, more than double the shortest military service period of 165 days.