October 20, 2015 / 2:50 PM / 2 years ago

Finland tightens criteria for Iraqi asylum seekers

Asylum seekers rest in a refugee center in Lahti, Finland September 25, 2015.Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland expects to get fewer Iraqi asylum seekers after it re-assessed the country's security and decided people will not qualify simply because they come from Iraq.

Most of the 23,000 asylum seekers that have arrived in Finland this year are Iraqis, encouraged by the country's relatively broad asylum criteria and an existing Iraqi community.

Under Finland's standard for granting asylum, people must have a "well-founded fear" of persecution in their own country to be granted asylum. Judging whether they qualify will now depend on individual circumstances, not just the fact that they come from Iraq, the Finnish Immigration Service said on Tuesday.

Security has improved in the province of Babylon and the city of Kirkuk, the immigration service said, and "while the security situation in Baghdad is still problematic, all people who come from Baghdad cannot be considered to run a personal risk of falling victim to violence."

Finland last week lowered its estimate for the number of asylum seekers who will arrive this year, to 30,000 to 35,000 from a previous estimate of 50,000, saying the government's plans had already reduced the Iraqi influx.

Asylum seekers last week wrote a petition and protested in central Helsinki because Finland intends to negotiate an agreement with Baghdad to deport those judged not to have a genuine threat to their safety.

Last month, Finland suspended decisions on Iraqi and Somali asylum claims until security re-assessments were done.

"No one should be deported to Iraq. Reports by international organizations and human rights organizations show that Iraq is not a safe country," the Finnish Free Movement network said in a statement.

Reporting By Anna Ercanbrack; Editing by Jussi Rosendahl, Larry King

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