The head of the Finnish Immigration Service estimates only 7,000 new asylum seekers will come to Finland in 2016, a drastic reduction from 2015 numbers, and less than Migri had estimated.
Jaana Vuoriohttp://www.hs.fi/haku/?search-term=Jaana%20Vuorio makes the comments on the latest episode of Newsmakers, HSTV's weekly English-language current affairs show.
"Our estimate was 10,000 for the entire year of 2016" says Vuorio "and now the estimate is six to seven thousand at most" she explains.
The sharp fall in asylum claims in Finland - there were more than 32,500 in 2015 - is in line with new figures released this week in neighbouring Norway, where officials slashed their country's forecast for asylum seeker arrivals to a 19-year low of 3,550 people. That's a drop of 86% from earlier estimates.
"The main reason, as compared to last year, are the border controls that have been put in place, and also the movement from Turkey to Greece, the numbers have gone down" says Vuorio.
Another contributing factor is that Finland toughened its position on asylum applicants from Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq who might have expected to have a near-automatic expectation of asylum being granted. Now, just being from those countries is not enough to guarantee a positive asylum decision.
Vuorio says the immigration service is mindful of ongoing developments in Iraq, as a coalition of Iraqi security services, Kurdish fighters, Sunni tribesmen and Shia paramilitary groups launch an offensive on the northern city of Mosul, to try and drive out ISIS forces.
"We know that the situation in Mosul has really deteriorated" says Vuorio, who adds that Finnish officials take into account the dangers posed if they were to return someone to Mosul. However she adds that "for Iraqis, then we also have to consider whether the person could return safely to some other part of the country".
There are currently 22,000 asylum seekers living in reception centres in Finland, down from 38,000 earlier this year. Vuorio attributes this to several factors - that some people have moved out of the reception centre accommodation; some had their applications rejected and they left the country; and thousands of people voluntarily withdrew their asylum applications and returned home, principally to Iraq.
"Maybe some of them had different expectations" says Vuorio, adding that for many people "Finland was like Eldorado, something unknown". Media reports suggest some asylum seekers did not like what they found when they arrived here - extreme cold winters, cultural differences, lack of a large established Iraqi community, or being stuck in remote reception centres away from urban areas.
Migri's target time to process asylum applications is six months, but last year they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of new cases. Vuorio says the number of case workers rose from 100 to 500, and while currently processing time is around seven months, that will be reduced to meet the targets once again.
In some parts of Finnish society there has been a backlash about the number of asylum seekers who came here during 2016. Vuorio says she was "surprised" by the extent of opposition to the migrant crisis. "It has been very sad".
One common complaint was that reception centres for migrants were often opened quickly in small towns without any dialogue with local residents.
"There used to be consulations" concedes Vuorio "but last year when we opened up to three or four centres per day, it was not possible".
Most of those centres were temporary, and scores have now been closed as the number of people waiting for their asylum application decisions reduces.
- Maahanmuutto Seuraa
- Turvapaikanhakijat Seuraa
- Irak Seuraa
- Syyria Seuraa
- Euroopan pakolaiskriisi Seuraa
- Somalia Seuraa
- Afganistan Seuraa