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Immigration officials: Asylum denials and deportations behind rise in self-harm attempts

Cases of asylum seekers self-harming in the face of rejected asylum applications and deportations are becoming "somewhat commonplace", say Finnish immigration officials. Police in eastern Finland have confirmed the case of one asylum seeker who jumped out of a reception centre window in eastern Finland.

Turvapaikanhakija käyttää kännykkää käytävällä
Image: Kay Nietfeld / EPA

The effects of negative asylum decisions and resulting deportations are beginning to make themselves felt among occupants of asylum seeker reception centres, according to Finnish immigration officials.

Pekka Nuutinen, head of the Finnish Immigration Service’s reception centre unit, told Yle that officials began implementing so-called “forced returns” last autumn. So far some 300 reception centre occupants have received such decisions and more are on the way.

"There may be quite a lot during the spring," Nuutinen added.

Officials were alerted to a video that began circulating online earlier this week, claiming to have been recorded at the Tari reception centre in Siilinjärvi, and showing an alleged asylum seeker jumping out of a window.

The video has been shared on the Facebook page of the NGO, Refugee Hospitality Club, with claims that the case is directly linked to a decision for a "forced return". However those claims have not been corroborated and the reception centre in question has declined comment. The group later deleted the video from its Facebook page.

Migri’s Nuutinen said that he is aware of the reports. He said that self-harming attempts at reception centres are often linked to protests and cries for help.

"Nowadays social media is closely linked to these matters," he commented.

The eastern Finland police department has confirmed that it has a video recording of a similar case taken on Monday. According to information they received, an asylum seeker was seriously injured in the incident, but is still alive. They said that no crime is suspected in the case.

Officials: Some increase in self-harm attempts

The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, has called on reception centres to report attempts at self-harming as well as other security issues. Nuutinen said that the number of cases has "increased to some extent".

At the end of February, the daily Helsingin Sanomat wrote that last year, reception centres had reported 58 suicide attempts. In an interview with the paper, Migri officials said that so far this year, there had been about 10 cases.

Last year the Finnish Association for Mental Health also expressed concerns over a rash of suicides at reception centres.

"I wouldn’t speak of an epidemic as such. It has always been the case that reception centres have people who find themselves at the end of their stay in the country. At that point, the mental atmosphere [at the centres] is rather bleak," Nuutinen noted.

In February, Migri said that it was beginning to offer training to asylum seekers with challenging behaviours in centres in Helsinki, Turku and Oulu. However the program addressed behavioural disorders rather than people with self-destructive tendencies. Nuutinen pointed out that all reception centres are staffed with social and health care workers.

"They are doing good work using traditional methods in rather difficult circumstances. Even in normal circumstances there is a great deal of discussion with the residents. This is no hocus pocus matter," he concluded.

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