The Finnish Immigration Service Migri has agreed contracts for the establishment of 16 new reception centres to be located across the country.
According to Migri's latest figures, a total of 39,868 people have applied for temporary protection in Finland since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.
This figure is significantly higher than the 32,500 applications submitted to the authority in the previous-record-high year of 2015, and the office expects this year's numbers may climb as high as 48,000.
"The number of reception centres and the accommodation capacity depend on how many people come to Finland to seek international protection or temporary protection," Migri's Director of Reception Unit Pekka Nuutinen said in a statement, adding that although asylum applications have been low in recent years, Russia's attack changed matters significantly.
During the month of March, about 6,000 Ukrainian citizens per week applied for temporary protection. Currently, Migri receives about 600 applications per week from Ukrainians.
The authority has also received just over 500 asylum applications from Russian citizens so far this year, including 147 during the month of September. The Southeast Finland Border Guard reported a slight uptick in the number of asylum applications submitted by Russians earlier this week.
Russian mobilisation not a factor in decision
Nuutinen emphasised that the decision to increase the number of reception centres across Finland was not related to recent events in Ukraine or Russia, such as the Kremlin's decision to partially mobilise Russian reservists last week.
The tendering process has been ongoing for some time, he said.
The newly-established reception centres will have capacity to accommodate about 300 people each, and the contracts signed by Migri are for an indefinite period.
"The reception centres that were put out to tender will operate in parallel with the existing reception centres. If the number of people seeking protection decreases, we will adjust the accommodation capacity by closing down the necessary number of reception centres," Nuutinen said, adding that if there are more applicants, Migri will need to increase capacity.
The value of the procurement is approximately 250 million euros for the period 2022–2027. The final cost depends on factors such as how much the reception centres are used, on the number of clients and on how long the reception centres are in operation.
Migri: Current situation different compared to 2015
Although the number of asylum and temporary protection applications is already higher this year compared to the entirety of 2015, Migri noted that the current situation is quite different from seven years ago.
For the vast majority of those who have fled Ukraine, accommodation has been arranged through channels other than via reception centres. During the spring, about 70 percent of people arriving from Ukraine stayed in alternative accommodation, including in private homes.
"Approximately 50 percent of them [Ukrainian citizens fleeing the war] currently live in private accommodation and 10 percent in municipalities as part of the municipal model for accommodation of people applying for temporary protection," Migri's statement said.
In 2015, accommodation had to be arranged for the vast majority of new arrivals, usually in reception centres.
Although Ukrainians are mostly housed in private accommodation, Nuutinen noted that this has created problems for Migri in reaching and communicating with people on temporary protection visas.