NGOs are urging Finland to respond quicker to the arrival of children looking to claim asylum. Unicef and Save the Children say that at present children seeking asylum in Finland can often travel the length of the country before they make an asylum application, most often at a police station in the capital city region after travelling south from Tornio following a border crossing from Sweden.
"The majority don’t seek asylum at the border, but further on at police stations in different municipalities," said Inka Hetemäki, Unicef Finland’s programme director.
Some 524 under-age children sought asylum in Finland in the first eight months of this year. The numbers are on a steep upward curve, as in August alone some 219 arrived—twice as many as in July.
Child protection important
In Sweden, through which most asylum seekers in Finland have travelled, about 1,270 children sought asylum last week. That is 442 more than during the previous week.
When a child has submitted an asylum application, the district court assigns him or her to a reception centre representative. Those under 16 are accommodated in group homes, 16-17-year-olds in supported housing.
The issue, according to Finnish NGOs, is the journey from the border to the police station. Children are known to have disappeared during the trip, and it is possible that some of them have been abducted by human traffickers.
Save the Children’s head of civic activities, Riitta Kauppinen, says that child protection authorities should play a greater role in the Finnish response.
New registration centre
"At the moment it’s problematic that administrative actors don’t talk to each other," said Kauppinen.
"There is a law on protecting refugees and a law on promoting integration. In addition the child protection agencies should be alert to child asylum seekers walking the streets alone, but now nobody dares to intervene because 'they are foreigners'."
Both Unicef and Save the Children have volunteers posted at major stations in the Helsinki area ready to round up, register and transport under-age asylum seekers. Some twenty arrived on Sunday and on Monday, but none arrived on Tuesday morning.
Both Kauppinen and Hetemäki expressed the hope that the registration centre which opened on Tuesday in Tornio would improve the registration and reception of children.
Save the Children has a tent next to Pasila police station (the main asylum registration point in Helsinki), where children are given clothes and a space to play.
"That’s where we change nappies for the smallest babies, and give clean baby clothes," said Kauppinen.