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Finland agrees to house 175 asylum seekers from Mediterranean camps

Interior minister says children will have priority for placements which are to be funded by EU money.

Afganistanilainen äiti ja lapsi pakolaisleirillä Lesboksella Kreikassa.
A mother and child from Afghanistan in Lesbos refugee camp Image: Dimitris Tosidis / EPA

Finland will take in 175 vulnerable asylum seekers from Mediterranean refugee camps, the interior ministry confirmed on Saturday.

The migrants will be relocated from camps in Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Italy, with funding for the placements coming from the EU’s migration fund AMIF.

The government’s decision to receive ”vulnerable” people means priority is likely to be given to children and single-carer families, who have a greater chance of being eligible for international protection and who come from countries where the security situation is particularly bad, such as Syria or Afghanistan.

”We have to help these people and children above all,” interior minister Maria Ohisalo said at a meeting of her Green party in Helsinki.

”This is a humanitarian decision and shows that Finland respects human rights,” she added.

”Very unsafe environment”

Greece has previously called on other EU states to take in children and young people who are housed in its refugee camps.

Tapio Laakso of charity Save the Children said the situation in the migrant camps on the Greek islands is extremely bad.

”It’s chaotic and children there are in a very unsafe environment,” Laakso said. ”It is good that Finland is playing a part in addressing the situation.”

Laakso said that poorer countries than Finland carry most of the burden for the world’s refugees. For example Lebanon, a country of six million people, houses around a million refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Sanna Koulu, from the office of Finland’s Children’s Ombudsman, welcomed the government’s decision but said the country could take in larger numbers of refugees.

”The amount is not very high given that between 2015 and 2016 Finland committed to taking in 2,000 people in direct transfers, according to the Finnish Immigration Service,” Koulu said.

”Immigration can stir up fear”

President Sauli Niinistö welcomed the move. ”We are helping those who are in real difficulty,” he told Yle’s Ykkösaamu programme on Saturday.

However Niinistö called on people engaging in debates about contentious topics in Finland, including immigration, to exercise restraint.

He said that although Finland needs work-based immigration because of its ageing population, the issue can be an emotive one.

”For some people it stirs up restlessness, even fear. We need to openly discuss the reasons and fears, rather than point fingers and call each other names,” Niinistö said.

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