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Dozens of claims of mistreatment from asylum seekers

The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, has received dozens of formal complaints this year from asylum seekers about the operations of reception centres where they reside. Many of the complaints concern the availability of medical services.

Useita poliisipartioita hälytettiin SPR:n vastaanottokeskukseen Kotkan Laajakoskella. Yksi mies otettiin kiinni epäiltynä tapon yrityksestä
During the late summer, the Laajakoski reception centre was the site of stabbings carried out by a man suffering mental health problems. Image: Sasu Mäkinen

Most recently, asylum seekers have filed a series of complaints about conditions at the Laajakoski reception centre in Kotka, including arrangements for medical care. There has also been criticism of transportation and transport connections.

The Finnish Immigration Service has examined the complaints concerning the Laajakoski centre. The head of Migri's Reception Unit, Olli Snellman, told Yle that considering the numbers of asylum seekers and reception facilities, he considers that the volume of complaints has been relatively small. 

"Complaints always get an appropriate response. Most [operations] oversight, however, is by the centres themselves and in different kinds of steering events including Migri and the staff of the centres. I'd estimate that there have been thousands of these this year," says Snellman.

Over the past year, Migri has carried out around 250 control and evaluation inspections at reception centres, not counting visits spurred by complaints by residents.

"We've made around 30 inspections because of actual suspicions of problems. Most of these have not turned up problems, but we have indeed discovered some problems concerning operational models and practice," Olli Snellman adds.

According to Snellman, some of the problems uncovered have been serious, and some quite minor.

More focus on mental health

Migri has contracted doctors' services for asylum seekers from private providers, but specialist care, for example more demanding psychiatric services, are provided by the public sector.

"There seem to be some difficulties in access to psychiatric services and at least regional variation in availability. This may be related, for example, to waiting lists," Snellman points out. "Asylum seekers can be a somewhat unfamiliar patient group. The asylum seekers themselves may have expectations out of the normal concerning healthcare."

There was a violent incident at the Laajakoski reception centre earlier this year attributed in part to mental health problems affecting one of the resident asylum seekers. The Kymenlaakso District Court convicted an Iraqi man of assault after he stabbed two people and held a knife to a third person's throat.  However, the court found the man's mental condition to be a mitigating factor.

Migri officials say that an effort is being made to meet the mental healthcare needs of asylum seekers and has set up a working group tasked with further developing this work. In addition,  a special needs unit with the capacity for 20 people has been established at the Hennala reception centre in Lahti. This unit has more personnel than reception centres usually do.

Residents of the Hennala centre may, for example, be dealing with drug abuse or symptoms of mental health problems.

"It may be that despite attempts to get, say, hospital care, they haven't been able to because they haven't met the criteria. On the other hand, the support available at regular reception centres maybe is not enough," Snellman explains.

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