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Online opposition to new reception centres "systematic"

New immigrant reception centres to be built in Finland are facing strong and organised opposition, especially on social media. One researcher says that these apparently spontaneous reactions are in fact part of a phenomenon of testing the limits of public discussion on immigration policy.

Halikom sairaala.
Halikon sairaala Image: Sami Tammi / Yle

Tuomas Martikainen from the Institute of Migration says that a planned demonstration opposing the building of an asylum seekers' reception centre in Salo is more than a mere spontaneous voicing of opinion.

"Opposition like this has been strong in other municipalities as well. It is organized and systematic resistance," Martikainen says. "The new anti-centre Facebook pages and discussions are spreading the idea that these reception centres can or even should be opposed."

Immigration policy may change

Finnish policy on accepting refugees and asylum seekers has remained the same for many years, with few new changes on the political level.

"Nothing has changed, but now we're talking about whether and how it should," Martikainen says, adding that the whirlwind of immigration debates spring in part from the Finns Party's growing need to raise its profile after leader Timo Soini's backtrack on Finland's loan plan for Greece.

"New limits are being tested in terms of what type of discussion on these issues is fair and acceptable, and measures like these may increase excessive statements."

Minister of the Interior Petteri Orpo alleged last week that as many as 15,000 asylum seekers would make their way to Finland by the end of the year. Martikainen says that nobody really knows how many incomers are actually expected, calling responses to Orpo's figures an "overreaction".

"We should address acute problems first in this emotional political atmosphere, and only then consider long-term solutions," he says.

New centres are actively being planned in Lapland and Kotka as well as Salo.

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