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Finland shutters reception centres as few seek asylum during pandemic

The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) says it plans to close seven units housing asylum seekers.

Omar Abdi, turvapaikanhakija
Twenty-three year old Omar Abdu is moving some 100 kilometres north from the reception centre in Kontiolahti in northern Karelia to a unit in Lieksa. Originally from Somalia, Abdu’s asylum applications have been turned down by Migri several times since arriving in 2015. Image: Ari Haimakainen / Yle
Yle News

The Finnish Immigration Service has announced plans to close seven reception centres for asylum seekers, saying they failed to meet the 90 percent capacity requirement to stay open.

In addition, asylum housing in Tampere, Rovaniemi and Kristinestad will be reduced. Overall, the downsizing measures will cut 1,388 berths across the country.

The reception centre in Jämsä will be the first to shut its doors by the end of September while the six others slated for closure will close in December.

"We have some 1,400 extra spots. These centres cost money and it all comes out of the state budget," said Pekka Nuutinen, director of Migri’s reception unit.

He said Migri has been gradually closing reception centres since 2015, which was a record breaking year in Finland as some 32,500 people, or nearly 10 times as many as the previous year, claimed asylum.

Most were from Iraq, with smaller numbers from Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.

"We’ve got 38 reception units now. We’ve shut down 90 of them in the past few years," Nuutinen explained.

When centres close, residents transfer to other units or move into private accommodation.

Asylum applications dropped during shutdown

This year Finland has registered half the number of asylum claims as during the same time last year. Migri said only a handful of people had sought asylum at Finland's borders during the pandemic.

Nuutinen, however, said Migri was prepared to ramp up facilities for asylum seekers should the need arise.

"We are much better prepared now to react should there be another large wave of asylum seekers. But right now we just can’t keep beds empty," he said.

Earlier this week Migri said that the transfer of a group of 25 child asylum seekers from Greek refugee camps to Finland, due to happen in June, had been postponed until July.

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