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Finland cuts cash support for asylum seekers

As Finland grapples with a wave of asylum seekers, authorities have moved to reduce the level of direct financial support they pay to incoming families. The Finnish Immigration Service told Yle it’s now giving families 10 percent less cash than in 2009.

Nykyiset vastaanottokeskukset ovat täyttyneet ääriään myöten täyteen Euroopan pakolaisvyöryn takia.
Image: Yle

Five years ago in 2009, a typical five-member asylum seeker family arriving in Finland received a monthly cash allowance of just under 1,300 euros. This was meant to cover food and other living expenses.

Immigration officials say that this year, in spite of a rise in the cost of living, such a family will receive ten percent less – just over 1,100 euros monthly.

"It's supposed to cover families' necessary expenses - food, clothing and basic hygiene," said Jorma Kuuluvainen, head of the Immigration Service’s reception unit.

The change came after new legislation enacted in 2011, which separated asylum seekers’ support from income benefits and also reduced the amount paid out.

Asylum seekers also received some degree of health care, but it is limited only to essential procedures.

"So if we’re talking about dental care, it must involve treating something like a severe toothache, and no more. We take care of the pain and address acute needs," Kuuluvainen explained.

Compared to other Nordic countries, Finland’s payout to refugee families is middling. In Sweden a five-member family receives significantly less monthly support – around 760 euros - but that country’s asylum seeker intake is nearly ten times the number that Finland accepts.

Norway on the other hand pays out a monthly subsistence of 1,400 euros. Denmark offers slightly more at 1,470 euros but also accepts fewer asylum seekers.

Officials ask for more funding

Nevertheless Finnish authorities are struggling to keep up with the growth of new arrivals and immigration officials say they will request an additional 19 million euros to finance reception centres and services for occupants.

Reception unit head Kuuluvainen said that even that additional allocation may not suffice if the current pace of arrivals continues.

"If it continues at this pace and with this level of growth then it’s very likely that it won’t be enough."

Kuuluvainen said officials may well have to go back to the government if the additional funding runs out.

"The only alternative is to ask for more."

By the end of this year Finnish officials estimate that the country would have accepted 4,121 asylum seekers, compared to 37,033 in Sweden, 6,026 in Norway and 2,995 in Denmark.

Last year some 3,561 persons had applied for asylum in Finland.

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