The Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) is preparing for refugees to arrive from Afghanistan, but Pekka Nuutinen, the director of the reception unit, does not expect the situation to escalate suddenly.
"It will be interesting to see how much and in what time frame the situation in Afghanistan affects us here in Finland. Probably some to degree, but the scale is hard to envisage at this point," he told Yle on Wednesday.
Nuutinen pointed out that due to the coronavirus situation, travelling is not easy at the moment. The first wave of refugees is targeting Afghanistan's six neighbouring countries, including Pakistan and several Central Asian states.
Migri does not expect a repeat of 2015, when a record 32,478 asylum seekers arrived in Finland.
"Since 2015, travel across Europe has become more difficult. It is difficult to imagine a situation where large groups could walk through Europe," he said.
Nuutinen said the reception of Afghan refugees from Afghanistan's neighbouring countries will require a political decision on quotas.
Nuutinen said that Migri is now in a better position to handle the arrival of refugees than during the last major European refugee crisis.
Up to 170 Afghans to be evacuated
Finland has promised to evacuate Afghans who worked for the Finnish state recently and to offer them residence permits, along with their immediate families — a total of 170 people.
"This kind of urgent operation begins at the reception centres. We assume that these people will not remain in reception centres for very long, but will move to various municipalities as soon as possible after obtaining residence permits," he said.
Migri declined to say exactly where the 170 evacuees will be housed to allow them an opportunity to settle in Finland in peace.
Tens of thousands could be handled if need be
Due to the coronavirus crisis, exceptionally few asylum seekers and refugees have arrived in Finland of late. In the spring of 2016, there were more than 33,000 beds in the country's reception centres. Currently, the capacity is 3,500 beds. There are about 1,000 of these immediately available.
At present, the Uusimaa region's reception centres are in Helsinki and Vantaa. There is also a group home in Espoo for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. These reception centres have a total of about 600 beds. Of these, some 200 are now free.
"In a dire situation, it would be possible to expand the reception system and receive up to tens of thousands of people. In an emergency, people need to be protected and covered by certain basic services," said Nuutinen.