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Reception centre director: "Thank goodness it's still summer"

Asylum seeker reception centres in Finland are overcrowded and hundreds of displaced people are now sleeping on the floors. Director of the Turku reception centre Heimo Nurmi says people that wish to help should call their local Finnish Red Cross chapter and volunteer.

Turun vastaanottokeskus sijaitsee kaupungin laitamailla Pansiossa.
Turun vastaanottokeskus sijaitsee kaupungin laitamailla Pansiossa. Image: Joona Haarala / Yle

The Finnish Red Cross asylum seeker reception centre in Turku’s Pansio district is full up. Director Heimo Nurmi says he has never been so busy.

"We have a very critical situation and the number of asylum applicants shows no signs of stopping – in fact, just the opposite," he says.

Nurmi explains that the southwest Turku location is not the only reception centre that is full, and the pressure is mounting. Turku’s Punkalaidun unit recently sent a bus full of applicants to Pansio because it is also at capacity.

"The opening of the new Punkalaidun reception centre in the summer meant that things eased off for about a month, but now they are in the same situation we are," says Nurmi. 

Mattresses lined up on the floor

The official capacity of the reception centre in Turku is set at 225. Director Heimo Nurmi says that number could have been raised by a few heads, but right now, that’s a minor issue.

"We are currently housing about 500 occupants. It is an unsustainable situation and it can’t work for more than a few days."

The centre has long since run out of beds, forcing residents to sleep on thin mattresses on the floor. Fortunately the weather has cooperated and August has stayed warm, as the shortage of space is really starting to be felt, Nurmi says.

"Once the weather grows cold and the rains come, the time we can spend outside will decrease. Right now, our residents eat and spend most of their time outside, as it is easier for everyone. But soon these days will be over," he adds.

A desperate search for more space

Heimo Nurmi says the Red Cross and the Finnish Immigration Service are actively seeking out new facilities, and the search has now been extended to include decommissioned apartments and schools.

"We have to find more space. The problem can’t be solved by simply saying that there is nothing to be found."

Staff at the Turku centre are pleased that the ongoing debate on the European migrant crisis has also engendered a willingness to help among many. Nurmi says the asylum seekers under his roof are most in need of accommodation and food.

"It is true that they arrive with hardly any possessions. Most only have a plastic bag or a rucksack on their back. They have very little clothes, but fortunately they don’t need any more quite yet."

Clothing collection drives will have to come later

Nurmi says many private individuals have contacted the centre and offered their help, but at the moment, the reception centres are in no position to organise clothing drives or store anything that is donated, as there is already a dire shortage of space.

"We even have people sleeping in the Finnish language classrooms now. This has been a very exhausting ordeal for those of us in this profession, as our main concern is providing each and every asylum seeker with lodging."

Nurmi advises volunteers turn to groups that can provide a coordinated effort.

"The Finnish Red Cross organises activities and things to do at reception centres, so it is best to contact your local Red Cross chapter if you want to help."

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