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New reception centre scrambles to hire staff as first asylum seeker occupants arrive

Finland is working quickly to find space for a recent influx of asylum seekers entering its borders. The Harjavalta reception centre in southwest Finland was set up in a hurry to address rising need, and is still in the process of hiring workers to staff the facility. A dozen or so Red Cross volunteers were on hand to welcome the first group of migrants arriving at the centre Saturday.

Päivi Vettenranta vastaanottokeskuksen huoneessa.
Image: Jari Pelkonen / Yle

The newly-opened Harjavalta reception centre in southwest Finland received its first residents on Saturday, and a team of Red Cross volunteers – not facility personnel – were on hand to welcome them. Operating out of the refurbished building that used to house the Satalinna Hospital, the centre is a welcome sight to the 50 young men who arrived, as they had been sleeping on the floor in a Turku immigrant services location for the previous two weeks. Next week a new group is scheduled to arrive. 

The new reception centre is one of several that have been quickly established of late, to meet what is widely seen as an acute need. Interior Minister Petteri Orpo recently predicted that as many as 15,000 asylum seekers would make their way to Finland by the end of the year and headlines report that reception centres in the capital city region have long been at capacity.

Here at Harjavalta, things have happened so quickly that the facility hasn’t even finished hiring new staff. Fortunately, a team of volunteers has stepped in to fill the gap.

Volunteer Päivi Vettenranta was on hand to assist the centre’s first occupants, wishing the asylum seekers a warm welcome to Satalinna.

“Make yourselves at home and try to hang in there. Our society is not the easiest one in the world to deal with,” advised Vettenranta.

The recruitment of workers for the Harjavalta centre is ongoing. Of the 64 rooms in the centre, only ten were hurriedly prepared for the arrival of the first occupants. Once the facility is operating at full speed, it will provide beds for 260 refugees and jobs for 15 personnel.

Two weeks of volunteers

Finland’s Institute of Migration asked a band of volunteers from the Satakunta region Red Cross to assist them, as no staff could be spared from Finland’s other full-up centres. Many of the Red Cross volunteers that offered to help had earlier international experience.

The volunteers will hold down the fort at Harjavalta for the next two weeks, after which the centre will hopefully have secured specialised personnel. Two shifts of volunteers cover the daytime hours, and a security firm is charged with looking after security through the night.

Back in 2009, Päivi Vettenranta was active in the establishment of temporary emergency lodging of migrants in the neighbouring city of Kokemäki. This time around, she received a call that gave her just thirty minutes’ notice. She immediately volunteered her services.

“I knew that it was an emergency and I was free to go, so why not?”

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