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Migri: Growing anxiety and unrest at Finland's reception centres

The Finnish Immigration Services reports an increased number of conflicts at asylum seeker reception centres. Many residents are struggling with depression.

Maahanmuuttajia suomen kielen oppitunnilla Jyväskylässä.
File photo of asylum seekers in Finnish language classroom in Jyväskylä. Image: Matti Myller / Yle
Yle News

According to the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri), tensions have increased at Finland's network of reception centres for asylum seekers. Since the start of 2018, the agency has registered 20 to 60 cases of clashes between centre residents every month, and between 10 and 15 cases of antagonist behaviour towards staff.

The Finnish public broadcaster Yle received the information via an email sent by Migri to the National Bureau of Investigation.

"Most of the cases have been limited to threats and verbal abuse," says Kimmo Lehto, the head of section at the Immigration Service.

Finland houses some 11,400 asylum seekers in centres throughout the country, and it is estimated that 9,000 of those have received a negative asylum decision. Many of those who have been denied a residence permit are appealing their decision.

"There is more unrest at reception centres than there has been in the past. The most common symptom behind this is depression. Negative decisions can cause anxiety. If disagreements or conflicts crop up, some people lose their temper and end up fighting," says Lehto.

Reception centre employees have received special training to deal with this.

"Staff has been trained in how to interact with people who have mental health issues. We have a direct line to health care providers and we can tap into mental health services, too, if needed. People with severe problems have access to institutional care," Lehto says.

Lehto says that a special unit has been established in the southern city of Lahti to provide enhanced services to asylum seekers who need extra support.

"Most of the people there are depressed. They are in Lahti for three-month treatment periods, for example. We try to make sure that the situation doesn't deteriorate so that institutional care is required." Lehto says.

Police: Situation hasn't changed

Ari Jokinen, police inspector at the National Police Board, says that as far as the police are concerned, there hasn't been a change in the security situation at Finland's reception centres.

"The security situation is good. We visit the reception centres to talk with the staff and Immigration Services representatives whenever we get the chance. Our aim is to maintain the best possible cooperation on the local level," he says.

The Immigration Services' Lehto agrees that the reception centres present no more of a risk to their surrounding environment than in the past.

"It is part of the same phenomenon that we have seen in Finnish health care sector. Nurses and doctors are seeing more cases of violent behaviour," he says.

He adds that a recent survey of reception centre residents (siirryt toiseen palveluun) carried out by the Finnish Immigration Services suggests that they feel safe and that the staff of the facilities treat them well.

Negative feedback reported in the survey commented on the remote location of the centres and the general state of cleanliness and comfort in some centres. Some respondents stated their wish for more everyday activities to keep them occupied.

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