The Finnish Immigration Service announced Friday that by the end of last year it had received nearly 32,500 asylum applications. The agency approved 1,628 asylum applications and turned down 1,307 – or 41 percent - of applications it processed. The majority of decisions involved applications filed by asylum seekers who had entered Finland before the peak in arrivals during the autumn.
There was also a significant increase in the number of applications that lapsed; last year that number reached 3,186. The most common reason was the withdrawal of requests for asylum.
Authorities did not investigate 1,094 applications for reasons such as the Dublin Agreement, which requires refugees to apply for asylum in the first EU country they enter.
The agency described the large numbers of arrivals in 2015 as "surprising", and noted that during one week in autumn, the number of people entering the country seeking asylum reached 4,000 – slightly more than the number who entered the country during all of 2014, 2013, or 2012.
Immigration Service: Contingency planning for 30,000 or 50,000 arrivals
It noted that it had been forced to rapidly set up new asylum seeker reception centres. The government has budgeted for the arrival of 15,000 additional refugees this year, the agency said, but added that the agency and the Interior Ministry are preparing for a large number.
"We are constantly drawing up plans in the event that 30,000 or 50,000 asylum applicants arrive, so that we will know what to do," said Juha Similä, who is responsible for the asylum seeker unit cost centre.
Last autumn the authorities grappled with finding adequate accommodation for asylum seekers and there were just 20 reception centres in the country at the beginning of 2015. Currently there are 150.
"At the moment the capacity is sufficient for arrivals and we even have some reserve space. We are bracing for a larger number than in 2014 and we have a plan B so that we won’t be taken by surprise this year," said reception centre unit director Jorma Kuuluvainen.
The immigration service handed down a total of 7,466 asylum decisions in 2015. The Interior Ministry is preparing a more detailed analysis of the development of the asylum seeker situation. That report is due at the end of January.