Roughly 100 children and youths granted Finnish residence permits are stranded in asylum seeker reception centres as they await permanent homes in cities across the country. Another 120 unaccompanied minors are waiting for asylum decisions, which the Finnish Immigration Service believes will be positive in most cases.
"We have been worried and we still are, because there are children in reception centres and in centres for minors who have not been placed. We would like to get them into municipalities and into integration programmes," said Interior Ministry Permanent Secretary Päivi Nerg.
"The average stay for them in a reception centre has been 300 days. In that sense, everyone who doesn’t get a quick decision a municipal placement, spends too much time in the reception centre," Nerg added.
Minors need support
Nerg has called on local governments to act quickly on the matter. She said it seems that local leaders have a preference for settling entire families.
"Minors are in a very vulnerable position. They need a lot of support, they need social support, schooling, family care and so on. It is quite an investment for municipalities."
"If a municipality feels that it doesn’t have the expertise, then there is probably a feeling of fear involved, because they have had so few before," Nerg explained.
Although many unaccompanied minors and young adults entering Finland have seen hard times and some are traumatised, Nerg said local governments should not take a dim view of them.
"On the other hand they are very willing to learn. They want to find their own homes in Finland. I would encourage local governments to keep their eyes open and to be willing to see that with support, these children will become real treasures to these municipalities and to Finland," she declared.
Most unaccompanied minors in Uusimaa region
The unit in the Ministry of Employment and the economy responsible for integration said that it is confident it will be able to place all of the children and young adults awaiting accommodation.
Since 2016, nearly 1,300 minors have been relocated from receptions centres and homes to municipalities. However some of them have reached adulthood and have set up their own homes.
Last December up to 800 children needed homes; by February, that number had halved to 400. During the late winter and spring, local governments opened their doors to hundreds.
Some 50 municipalities have accommodation for just under 1,100 children, with most concentrated in the Uusimaa region in southern Finland.
Ministry counsellor Anna Bruun said that officials have got the better of the problem.
"The goal is always for underage children to relocate from centres for minors to nearby municipalities, and the municipalities have been highly committed to taking them in," she noted.
Bruun said that there is no need for concern, although the transition has been prolonged for some isolated cases.
A majority of the unaccompanied minors entering Finland as asylum seekers have been 16 to 17 years old. According to Bruun, officials have had to wait for children to turn 18 and free up a place for a minor in a family group home, for example.
Officials have set up accommodation for unaccompanied minors in family group homes, assisted living facilities and supported housing units.
"The goal is for each child that comes here to find a place that meets his or her needs. To find a place at school, and to find the kind of accommodation that will provide sufficient support. In such cases the process can take a little longer," she explained.
Unaccompanied minors an opportunity
Local government leaders have had to consider whether or not they have appropriate locations and competent staff, and whether they can organise the required services for refugee minors. Bruun and Nerg both agree that local leaders need to understand the opportunities that the children and young adults offer.
According to Bruun officials in Sweden and Norway have compiled reports on how unaccompanied minor shave been faring. Based on the data gathered, she said the situation looks positive.
"Populations are ageing in many municipalities and here we have young people with a desire to study and a strong will to become part of Finnish society. If integration goes well and they get the support they need in the early stages, then that is an opportunity for the municipality in the long term."
"After a minor has spent four years in the country, nearly 90 percent of them have found a place to live, and they are either studying or have a job. When these groups have been studied, it has been found that they have a strong desire to cope, and on average they are very successful."