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Mental health NGO: Rash of suicide attempts at asylum seeker reception centres

There were two suicides and three attempted suicides at asylum seeker reception centres last week in the Helsinki region, says the Finnish Association for Mental Health. The NGO says the incidents involved asylum seekers living at various facilities in the capital region and are an indication of the despair felt by some asylum seekers.

Turvapaikanhakija vastaanottokeskuksessa.
Image: Kay Nietfeld / EPA

The Finnish Association for Mental Health says it received information about two suicides and three attempted suicides in the Helsinki region via cases that came to its attention through its crisis centre.

"We know that, for example last week there were two suicides and three attempted suicides, in which there is some uncertainty as to whether or not one of them resulted in death. It’s not known whether or not the person was saved," said Outi Ruishalme, head of the association’s crisis centre operations said in a statement Tuesday.

She said that the cases involved asylum seekers who were residents of different receptions centres in various parts of the capital region.

Last Tuesday, Yle News reported that an 18-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker had been found dead at the Ruskeasuo reception centre in Helsinki. According to information Yle News received, the young man had committed suicide.

Head of Finnish Red Cross reception centre operations in Helsinki and Uusimaa, Timo Nyholm confirmed the death but would not comment on the cause. Helsinki police chief inspector Teemu Kruskopf also confirmed that police were investigating the case and said that an autopsy would be performed but the results would remain classified. Police did not indicate whether or not they were investigating any suspects in the young man’s death.

NGO: Need to take a critical look at Finnish policies

The association cited Finnish legislation on international protection (asylum) cases, which requires officials to take into account the special needs that reflect the vulnerability of persons seeking asylum, such as age or the applicant’s physical or mental state.

The organisation said that the law calls for these special needs to be identified on an individual level, and in a reasonable amount of time, once the asylum process has started and that these special needs should be provided for during the entire process. The NGO said that it is clear that Finland has not been able to meet this requirement in recent times.

The mental health association said that the suicide cases speak to the sense of despair among some asylum seekers. Back in June, Yle reported that there had been suicide attempts at nearly half of reception centres.

"This indicates that there is a large number of asylum seekers in reception centres and that personnel resources are tight in relation. Persons in vulnerable situations cannot be offered psychological support in accordance with the law," Ruishalme commented.

She said that many of the asylum seekers who had committed or attempted suicide had been denied asylum in Finland. In other cases, no decision had yet been handed down, she added.

"It seems that this also sends a message that Finland should carefully review its policies," the crisis centre director remarked.

"Could it be that some asylum seekers feel that if they are denied asylum and they are deported, the situation is so hopeless that they might as well end their lives here?"

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