Sharp regional differences in settling refugees in Finland
South Ostrobothnia most reticent, Eastern Finland and Finnish Lapland most welcoming – but it’s not all selfless altruism
Local authorities in the east and north of Finland are the most open to housing refugees.
The share of Finnish Lapland, North Karelia, North Ostrobothnia, and Southwest Finland in settling refugees has grown by about a third in the past three years.
Proportionally the greatest increase has been in Finnish Lapland, where more than 700 refugees have moved since 2007, which is more than have come to the cities of Turku or Tampere. Least willing to open their doors to refugees have been South Ostrobothnia and Southwest Finland, which have received only about 200 refugees in the new century.
Most refugees accepted by Finland continue to settle in the Helsinki region.
The officially definition of refugees includes those taken into Finland as part of the annual refugee settlement quota, as well as asylum seekers whose applications have been approved, and family members of approved refugees allowed into Finland under the family unification programme.
There are sharp differences among municipalities in accepting refugees for settlement, as taking in refugees is completely voluntary.
Whereas the small North Karelian communities of Lieksa and Kontiolahti have accepted about 400 refugees between 2008 and August this year, the larger municipalities of Nurmijärvi and Tuusula, which are located near Helsinki, have accepted just 11.
In spite of pleas by Finland’s Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, many local authorities have refused to allocate housing for refugees, and increasing numbers of refugees are making their living arrangements on their own.
According to figures acquired by Helsingin Sanomat, only about 1,000 of the approximately 3,000 refugees who established a home in Finland were allocated a place by the municipality in question.
Refugee reception centres have become increasingly crowded, with 1,500 approved asylum seekers finding a home for themselves after municipal authorities did not help.
“There are not nearly enough municipal slots. We have worked together with the reception centres to help approved applicants in matters related to relocation by giving rent guarantees, for instance”, says Veikko Pyykkönen, a high-ranking official at the Finnish Immigration Service. He says that about 200 people at reception centres are currently in line for a municipal spot.
Rural local authorities rarely receive refugees out of mere good will and kindness. Municipalities with dwindling and ageing native populations see refugees as a way of getting more young residents, labour, and state assistance.
The state pays a municipality between EUR 2,300 and EUR 6,800 a year for three years for each refugee that it agrees to settle. The exact amount depends on the age of the refugee, and with “quota refugees” the payments continue for four years.
In addition there are state subsidies for the costs of interpreters, as well as social and health care subsidies for disabled persons.
The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (KL) says that the state aid does not go far enough. “The need to increase subsidies is between 40 and 50 per cent”, calculates Anu Wikman-Immonen, an expert employed by KL.
Next year’s state budget promises an increase of only about ten per cent to some of the subsidies.
Regional cooperation is seen as one way to deal with the backlog. It is already practiced in the regions of Turku and Pietarsaari.
“One often hears that a local authority will not take refugees on its own, but it would be willing to do so in cooperation with a neighbouring municipality. Neighbouring municipalities could accept refugees in alternate years, for instance”, says Tiina Pesonen of the immigration department of the Ministry of the Interior.
Cooperation is under consideration in many areas, but the Immigration Service wants to see action. “Consideration dies not necessarily mean that there would be more places”, Veikko Pyykkönen observes.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finland has fallen short of refugee quota almost every year since 2000 (13.12.2006)
Cutting down on number of quota refugees may increase human trafficking (24.2.2010)
Municipalities resistant to taking refugees accepted by Finland (12.11.2009)
Refugees receive orientation in Turkey for possible settlement in Finland (22.12.2006)