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Finnish immigration officials say asylum seekers need more mental health care services

The Immigration Service operates a 20-bed facility offering mental health care to asylum seekers, but the agency says it's constantly full and has a long queue.

The only unit run by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) providing special mental health care for asylum seekers was set up two years ago in the souther city of Lahti.

The 20-bed facility cares for asylum seekers with mental health problems in need of supervision or counseling.

”Most suffer from past events,” says Johann Kiander from the Lahti asylum seeker reception centre.

”Some have endured dangerous trips across the continent or are victims of trafficking. Others are traumatised by war or worry about missing relatives,” Kiander says.

In addition, asylum seekers' disappointment about rejected asylum applications can also contribute to mental health problems.

The overwhelming majority - about 9,000 out of 11,400 asylum seekers - currently in Finland's reception centres have received negative decisions. Due to appeals and refilings, the asylum application process sometimes lasts for years.

Long queues

The mental health care unit in Lahti has space for 20 clients but is constantly full.

”There is a constant queue at the facility,” Migri's senior inspector Päivi Hieta says.

According to Migri's reception centre chief Kimmo Lehto another unit is needed and says the agency has turned to the Ministry of Interior for funding.

The Lahti facility's annual budget amounts to 1.3 million euros, most of which goes towards personnel costs. The 15-member staff includes nurses, social workers and mental health experts, an arrangement which pushes the special centre's per-client cost to 200 euros a day, compared to the per-client cost of 55 euros at regular facilities.

However, treating asylum seekers in Lahti’s special support unit is still less expensive than putting them in 24-hour care in a hospital, Lehto adds.

He says dealing with mental health problems is important for security reasons too. However, in most cases, threats of violence made by asylum seekers are most often directed at other asylum seekers, he explains.

"A large majority of our clients are depressed. They tend not to be a danger to anyone besides themselves,” Lehto says.