The Refugee Advice Centre’s history
The Refugee Advice Centre was founded in 1988, at a time when the first asylum seekers started arriving in Finland on their own. Previously Finland had taken in resettled refugees from Chile and Vietnam.
NGOs and private individuals, who felt that asylum seekers, who had arrived in Finland should be given legal advice, founded the Refugee Advice Centre. At the time, Finland did not yet have a fixed process for asylum seekers or the current kind of immigration legislation. The organisation has followed the development of Finnish immigration legislation and policies throughout its history.
Current member organisations, such as Amnesty International’s Finnish section, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki, Demla (association for legal policy), the Finnish Refugee Council, the National Union of University Students in Finland and the Finnish Red Cross, were among the founders of the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre.
Activities: Legal and advisory services
The Refugee Advice Centre’s lawyers assist applicants in asylum and other residence permit matters (such as residence permits based on work or family ties). The organisation’s area of expertise is assisting people in particularly vulnerable situations. People falling into this category include unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, torture survivors, people with history of trauma, LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.
If needed, the Refugee Advice Centre’s lawyers will also appeal cases to and seek interim measures from supranational courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the UN’s Committee against Torture (CAT).
At the moment, the Refugee Advice Centre employs ten lawyers, who are experts in asylum and immigration law in Finland. The organisation’s staff members are continuously in contact with asylum seekers and other residence permit applicants in Finland, as a part of their work in assisting the applicants in their processes. As a result, the Refugee Advice Centre has unparalleled experience and knowledge about the way laws are applied, the ways the authorities work and how these affect the rights of immigrants in Finland.
The Refugee Advice Centre also carries out continuous monitoring of jurisprudence, or court decisions, in both national and supranational courts. We also engage in international co-operation as a member of the pan-European alliance ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles), and its legal network ELENA (European Legal Network on Asylum). In addition to this, the Refugee Advice Centre is one of three UNHCR partners in Finland. On the national stage, the Refugee Advice Centre works actively with other NGOs working with asylum seekers and other immigrants.
Our advocacy and expert consultancy work includes actions like preparing statements on proposed legislation. Different ministries and various parliamentary committees consult the Refugee Advice Centre regularly during different stages of the legislative process.
Over the last few years the Refugee Advice Centre and its partners have focused in particular on campaigning for asylum seekers’ legal rights and protections, alleviating the difficulties that recipients of international protection face when applying for family reunification and raising Finland’s refugee quota.
The Refugee Advice Centre also provides specially tailored training packages to various professional groups, the authorities, volunteer and students.
Finance and administration
The Refugee Advice Centre is a non profit non governmental organisation. The legal services provided are mainly funded through public legal aid. From the beginning of 2018 we have been able to offer legal advice free of charge due to the support from Veikkaus, the national gaming company.
The annual general meeting holds the highest power of decision in the association. The board of trustees is composed of representatives from various member organisations. Sirkku Päivärinne acts as the chair since the beginning of 2019. The Executive Director of the Refugee Advice Centre acts as the secretary of the board.
Member organisations of the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre include:
– Amnesty International, Finnish Section
– the Student Union of the University of Helsinki
– the Finnish League for Human Rights
– Finn Church Aid
– Association for legal policy Demla
– YWCA of Finland
– the Finnish Refugee Council
– the National Union of University Students in Finland
and the Finnish Red Cross has an observer status.