Interior Minister Päivi Räsänen proposes that Finland could accept 500 refugees from Syria next year. The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has asked all member states to take in Syrian refugees beyond their normal quotas.
Räsänen tells Yle that under her plan, 200 refugees would be counted as part of Finland’s standard annual quota of 750 refugees, with the other 300 included in a separate supplementary quota. She says that the arrivals would be given permanent residence permits.
The Christian Democrats chair stressed that although Finland faces its own economic difficulties, it must take extra strides to help those in distress because of the civil war in Syria.
She notes that the proposal must still be considered by the cabinet and by the other ministries involved. These include the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, which is responsible for integration of refugees into Finnish municipalities.
Räsänen says that the operation would cost less if refugees were to be directly placed in municipalities around the country rather than in reception centres. This would also be better for the newcomers themselves.
Her ministry estimates that annual costs would around three million euros, assuming an extra quota of 300 refugees is set.
Sweden "more attractive"
Räsänen rejects the suggestion that Finland might be less welcoming to Syrian refugees than other countries.
“At the moment Finland does not turn away any Syrian asylum seekers. In other words those who reach our borders are granted asylum. This is the same practice as in Sweden, but it just happens to be a more attractive country for them,” the minister notes.
Sweden has so far accepted 15,000 Syrian asylum seekers. Räsänen says the situation would be the same here if Finland already had a significant Syrian community. This year just 72 Syrian asylum seekers have arrived in Finland.
The UNHCR estimates that some two million people have fled the violence in Syria. About half of them are children.