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New Migri director foresees post-corona wave of asylum seekers

The new head of the Immigration Service sees pent-up pressure to enter the EU from Mediterranean countries.

Jari Kähkönen Joutsenon vastaanottokeskuksen pihalla.
Jari Kähkönen has run the Joutseno Reception Centre for 11 years. Image: Kalle Purhonen / Yle

Jari Kähkönen, director of the Joutseno Reception Centre in Lappeenranta, eastern Finland, has been named as the new Director General of the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri).

On Thursday, the government appointed Kähkönen to replace Jaana Vuorio, who has led the agency since 2013 but was denied a bid to serve another term in office.

Kähkönen meanwhile has headed the Lappeenranta facility since 2009, and worked for Migri for 16 years, beginning as a senior inspector of reception centres in 2004.

2015 a watershed year

He points to 2015 as a "watershed year" for Migri and his own career, as that year Finland faced a sudden influx of more than 32,000 asylum seekers.

"Certainly before 2015, Migri didn't mean much to the average person on the street, but now many people have an opinion about it one way or another," he says.

Kähkönen takes over the main office in Helsinki's Pasila district as of 1 September, but declines to reveal yet what policy changes, if any, he plans to pursue.

"I'm planning to go to Pasila next week. Jaana Vuorio has kindly promised to show me around and advise me," he says.

Quiet summer

Recent months have been exceptionally quiet at Finland's reception centres due to the pandemic travel restrictions.

"There have been very few new customers, only a handful in the past couple of months," says Kähkönen.

The number of people at the Joutseno centre has dwindled to around 120–130, down from around 170 in March.

Kähkönen predicts that after the pandemic has subsided, Europe will again see a wave of migration.

"In certain countries, in the Mediterranean region for instance, there is pressure to come to Europe. That could erupt when the pandemic is over. And if travel within Europe becomes easier, of course that will also be reflected in the number of applicants here," he says.

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