Surge of asylum seekers portends new record year
Kemi reception centre had to resort to mattresses on floors
A surge in asylum seekers has which began after Christmas has taken Finnish officials by surprise.
Last year set a new record year for asylum seekers, but the increase which began in December and continued into January, has filled refugee reception centres around Finland.
In the first week of January alone, about 100 new arrivals came to Finland asking for political asylum.
In 2008, 3,900 entries were recorded, and a new record is expected to be reached this year.
Half of January’s applicants were from Iraq and Somalia.
About 60 per cent of arrivals from those countries have had their asylum requests accepted.
The increasingly difficult political situation in those countries can be seen as one reason. Another reason for the congestion is the tougher asylum policies taken by Sweden and Norway”, says Sirkku Päivärinne, head of immigration affairs at the Ministry of the Interior.
“Because of the rush, we need to increase the amount of personnel dealing with applications, and to open new centres. The next units will be opened in Pietarsaari and Vaasa.”
“An estimated one third of asylum applications can be dealt with this year by the present staff. this adds to backlogs at reception centres”, says Esko Räty, head of the asylum unit of the Finnish Immigration Service.
The reception centres are so full that some people have had to be housed in temporary lodgings, and on mattresses on floors, as is the case in Kemi.
In certain situations, applicants have had to be moved to different locations.
Sleeping on a mattress on the floor is not a problem for recent arrivals from Somalia. Mohamed Jirde Mohamed, Mohamed Abdullahi Hasi and Mohamud Hussein Ahmed are all smiles, praising the accommodations, even though the room that they are in has no furnishings other than mattresses and a dining table.
“It is too cold outside”, Ahmed says, looking at the snow. The temperature outside is -16 degrees Celsius.
Visibility through the window is not very good. The temperature in the room, made humid by the preparation of food, has been raised to close to 30 degrees - a comfortable level by African standards.
“I have asked the men not to disconnect the fire alarm. In one apartment, the fire alarm in the kitchen started sounding, after the heat from the radiators had been augmented by keeping the hot plates on the stove glowing red”, says Pauli Porkka of the Finnish Red Cross.
The Red Cross expanded its operations in the north of Finland from Rovaniemi to Kemi, where a new reception centre for 150 people was opened in the city’s empty rental apartments, which have a total of 35 apartments.
“The surge in residents came as a surprise. Fortunately, today we got 50 new beds”, says Pirkko Rytkönen, of the Kemi reception centre.
An expansion is also planned for the Rovaniemi centre because of a lack of space.
“Not a single new person can fit in here. The situation is challenging, as there is space for 150, but we have 181 people there”, says Janne Autio, director of the Kotka refugee reception centre.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Hotel or dorm is sought in Helsinki to accommodate growing number of asylum-seekers (4.12.2008)
Surge in number of underage asylum seekers (24.11.2008)
Number of children seeking asylum close to record (18.8.2008)
Number of asylum-seekers shows upward trend (9.6.2008)