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First kids set to arrive in Finland from Mediterranean refugee camps

This week 25 unaccompanied minors will arrive in Finland from the camps.

Lapsi kantaa vesitynnyriä Morian pakolaisleirillä Kreikassa.
A child carries water at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. Image: Orestis Panagiotou / EPA

A group of 25 children will be the first unaccompanied minors to arrive in Finland from refugee camps in Greece this week. The youngsters are the first of a total of 175 asylum seeker minors from the Mediterranean whom Finland agreed to accept last autumn.

The Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, would not disclose the exact date of the children’s arrival, but said that it will soon decide where to place them.

"Because of the coronavirus epidemic asylum seekers will initially have to spend two weeks in quarantine in Espoo. After that they will be placed in reception centres especially for underaged children," senior officer Mikko Välisalo of Migri's reception centre unit said.

The children are likely to be placed in special reception centres in Oulu, Vörå (Vöyri in Finnish), Hämeenkyrö, Turku, Espoo and Kotka, however the exact locations will be decided during the course of the placement process.

According to Migri, although the final placements will take several months, the reception centres are said to be mostly ready to accept new residents, even at short notice.

New facilities, extra staff

Reception centre officials said that they have been aware of the arrival of the 175 minors for some time.

"We have had a lot of time to prepare. We have organised new accommodation facilities and we are recruiting additional staff," according to Saija Makkonen, director of a Kotka centre that specialises in housing underaged children.

The Kotka facility is a hybrid centre, so named because it is home to asylum seekers as well as people who have already received residence permits.

The arrival of the children is not expected to pose any major challenges for the centres, since their role is to provide accommodation at short notice under normal circumstances.

"Actually the only difference is that a large number of asylum seeker minors will be arriving at the same time," immigration director Mats Hägglund of the Oravainen reception centre in Vörå said.

Two-week quarantine awaits

The coronavirus epidemic will affect the arrival of the young asylum seekers. Centres in Espoo and at least Kotka will be introducing special arrangements as a result of the situation. Minors arriving in Finland from Cyprus later this year will be placed directly at the centre in Kotka, where they will be in quarantine for two weeks.

They will be allowed to spend time outdoors on the compound, but will be forbidden from using public transportation or going to the stores.

"Meals will be provided for them and they will live separately from the other residents currently residing at the centre," Makkonen said.

Other arrangements for the new arrivals will have to be made when the newcomers are on the ground in Finland, since the only information the reception centres have about them is the number of children.

"There will be 15," Makkonen said, referring to the Kotka facility.

Single parent families also due

The 175 asylum seekers Finland has agreed to accept are coming from refugee camps in Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Italy.

The 25 children due to arrive this week are mainly from Afghanistan, while another 100 children and young people will travel to Finland later in three groups, Migri said. The timetable for those arrivals is not yet known.

Last autumn Finland committed to accepting asylum seekers in vulnerable positions. In addition to children without parents, Finland will therefore take in single-parent families.

Reception centre officials said that they expect the relocation of the asylum seekers to be challenging.

"Working with children and young people always comes with surprises, but we have experienced and motivated professionals working here. We are really looking forward to the children’s arrival," Espoo reception centre director Marko Uuttu said.

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