Finland received its first group of refugees who are being resettled from Turkey to EU member states as part of a deal struck last month to try and slow the arrival of asylum seekers into the region.
According to Jorma Vuorio, director-general of the Interior Ministry’s immigration unit, the Syrians – a group of three families – arrived at the Helsinki international airport on Monday.
The 11 individuals were flown to Finland from Turkey and will initially be accommodated at a reception centre before they are relocated to municipalities – as soon as possible, authorities said.
"Finland has tried to take entire families"
On Monday, Greece began returning to Turkey asylum seekers seeking to travel on to Europe. A deal brokered between the EU and Turkey last month will see the EU resettle as many refugees in member states as Greece sends back to Turkey.
Finland will select refugees based on a pre-selection of Syrians by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
"Finland has always tried to take entire families, because that way we will get the entire family unit and there won’t be separate applications later on for other family members," Vuorio explained.
Finland has agreed to accept a total of 600 Syrians from Turkey as part of the deal it worked out with the EU.
Germany also received its first set of arrivals under the agreement on Monday.
Many European politicians and human rights groups have condemned the refugee returns agreement, saying that it violates human rights conventions. Amnesty International has also pointed out that Turkey is not safe for asylum seekers.
More asylum seekers bound for Finland under EU internal resettlement plan
In addition to the Syrians to be taken in from Turkish refugee camps, Finland has also previously committed to accommodating 3,200 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy as part of an internal EU resettlement plan. However the country has so far only received a small number.
"We have had a problem in that no one has come that way… People don’t want to register for internal relocation," Vuorio said.
The official said that EU member countries were still to redistribute some 54,000 asylum seekers as part of the resettlement plan, with Finland’s share of that outstanding number amounting to 1,100.
"Now there is no decision on whether or not we will focus on relocating people from Turkey or just some while the rest will be internal resettlements," Vuorio added.
He pointed out that there has been no EU-level decision on the numbers still awaiting internal resettlement.
"But that’s the number floating around in the background," he remarked.