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Hundreds queue for civilian service over coronavirus crisis

The crisis caused officials to cancel spring training, creating a backlog in the pipeline for non-military service.

Siviilipalveluksessa olevia nuoria miehiä Lapinjärven koulutuskeskuksen luokkahuoneessa.
All civilian service stints begin at the Lapinjärvi Training Centre. Image: YLE

Hundreds of young men have not been able to complete basic training for alternative civilian service this spring because of the coronavirus crisis, the association representing conscripts said on Thursday. As a result candidates' stint of non-military service has been put on the back burner.

"The situation for civilian service has been uncertain this spring. Training sessions and so-called civilian [service] camps have been cancelled until June. Remote training trials began in June so training for civilian service resumed, but the uncertainty will continue for some time for many," association board member Nicholas Kujala said in a Yle Radio Suomi interview on Thursday.

In Finland, non-military service is an alternative to military service and men can apply for it on the basis of personal conviction. Every male Finnish citizen aged 18-60 is liable for military service, while women can apply for military service on a voluntary basis. A person liable for military service must complete either armed or unarmed military service or non-military (civil) service.

Travel to civilian service centres a health worry

Civilian service director Mikko Reijonen said that the training backlog that was created in the spring will not be fully dismantled until next autumn. He said that conscripts have received orders to report for training, but that the call-ups have since been cancelled. According to Reijonen, conscripts can request a new service period online and noted that many have already done so.

Article continues after photo

siviilipalvelukeskuksen johtaja Mikko Reijonen
Mikko Reijonen Image: Kare Lehtonen/Yle

"If the epidemic allows, we are prepared to take on larger training groups starting next autumn and to beef up training capacity. We will have four-week training sessions in July and August, subject to restrictions on gatherings. In other words there will be groups of 50 at civilian service centres, but the size of training groups will be the usual 150," Reijonen explained.

He pointed out that the situation arose because of an emphasis on the health of conscripts and added that they will be placed in civilian service around Finland. He added that the goal was to avoid conscripts travelling between their homes and civilian service centres.

"It was one of the central reasons that the training sessions were cancelled. Another reason was that civilian service centres could not accommodate 150 conscripts at the same time for training," Reijonen said,

Distance service challenging

Kalle Tuomainen said he has performed civilian service remotely for the past few months. He began his training in March, but it was suspended after two weeks. He said he is now enrolled in an intensive course remotely. Service is usually performed on location at a civilian service centre, but Tuomainen said that he is looking for an appropriate job placement. He said that the remote service has been challenging.

"The service days pass by and I perform service all the time, but I am not as active because there are very few tasks organised," Tuomainen told Yle. Reijonen said that he is familiar with the difficulty of finding a service job placement. He added that service placement providers have been reluctant to contract new hires because they do not know when the situation will return to normal.

Conscript association board member Kujala said that he hoped that civilian service would be taken more seriously. He said that non-military service offers many societal benefits, particularly during the ongoing epidemic, which he described as a civilian crisis.

"Hopefully many young people will be able to escape the uncertainty although we understand that the situation is difficult," he added.

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