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Syrian refugees matched with municipalities, Congolese less lucky

The first Syrians of the governmental 300-refugee quota for 2014 have been chosen. Additional funding has been used to coax municipalities into accepting refugees.

Pakolaisten telttaleiri
Syyrialaisia YK:n pakolaisleirillä Jordaniassa 30. heinäkuuta. Image: Jamal Nasrallah / EPA

The Finnish Red Cross estimates that some 2.7 million people affected by the Syrian civil war have fled abroad. The Finnish government has reacted to the crisis by raising its annual refugee quota by 300 people, up to a total of 1,050 refugees. Before entering the country, refugees must be registered in a Finnish home municipality.

”Municipalities are clearly keen to help,” says Susanne Tengman of the Finnish Immigration Service (FIS).

Minister of the Interior Päivi Räsänen, among others, has criticised the municipalities for their unwillingness to accept refugees. But now it seems that media attention and publicity campaigns directed specifically at local authorities – along with the promise of additional funds – have borne fruit, says specialist Jaana Suokonautio from the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

”To mention a few specific places, Kuopio and Tampere are among the municipalities to have raised their quotas in the current situation,” Suokonautio says. ”The process is still ongoing in the Helsinki metropolitan area, but more than likely Syrians will be accepted here as well.”

Municipalities up their refugee influx, Congolese left hanging

Municipalities in Finland are allowed control over the number of refugees they accept, regardless of the governmental quota. According to Suokonautio, about 1,300 municipal openings are currently available. If the municipalities currently weighing their positions decide in favour of taking in more refugees, the figure will rise to about 1,600.

Many refugees who have already been accepted into Finland, such as people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are still waiting for placement in a new home municipality. Are Syrian refugees more sought after than the 160-odd Congolese who have been waiting much longer for municipal placement?

”Maybe the situation in Syria has opened people’s eyes,” Suokonautio suggests. ”There’s this feeling of wanting to help this displaced group of people specifically.”

UNHCR offers Finland families with children

Finnish authorities choose which refugees to accept based on proposals made by the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee organisation. The selection is preceded by an interview where the candidates are asked questions by the Finnish Security Intelligence Service, the FIS and others. This spring, the authorities travelled to Jordan and Lebanon to conduct the interviews.

”The refugees out of Jordan come from extremely dire circumstances, from the cities of Homs and Daraa, where the military operations have been extensive,” Tengman of the FIS explains. ”The refugees have reported traumatic experiences of random arrests, bombings and sniper activity,” she adds.

Almost all of those selected to enter Finland are young families: fathers of the families had backgrounds in construction or experience as restaurateurs, while the mothers had stayed at home with the children.

”I believe that they will settle down successfully in Finland, because their motivation to enter the country is so strong,” Tengman assesses. ”In Jordan, you have to have a work permit which is very hard to come by, and it has frustrated the families because they want to work.”

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