Heimo Nurmi provided instructions to Hamzaali Algbori and Salwan al-Baroodi from Iraq at the reception centre in Pansio, Turku. Reception centres are scrambling to come up with extra space after more asylum seekers arrived in Finland over the past fortnight than ever before.

The situation has escalated so rapidly that three new reception centres would have to be opened every week to accommodate all of the arrivals, estimates Visa Knape, a senior adviser at the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri).

New reception centres have been or will in the near future be opened in several municipalities to accommodate an estimated 1,500—2,000 asylum seekers. Yet, Migri and the Finnish Red Cross (SPR) are looking desperately for new accommodation premises for asylum seekers.

SPR is currently in talks with ten municipalities over the establishment of a reception centre, while Migri is sifting through proposals for suitable premises.

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Migri has sought to establish reception centres only with the consent of municipalities, but it is prepared to scrap the requirement unless municipalities can pick up the pace. “We're quite close to no longer asking about the views of municipalities. We've submitted a proposal to the Ministry [of the Interior] and received an answer,” says Knape.

Forssa, Keuruu and Vihti, for example, have turned down proposals to establish reception centres with a total capacity of 1,000.

“Moving forward is considerably easier with municipalities that are willing to participate. But once this is no longer based on voluntariness, we'll have the authority to launch operations also in unwilling municipalities.”

The central administration will reimburse municipalities for the cost of maintaining the reception centres.

Roughly 850 people sought asylum in Finland last week, while over 500 asylum seekers arrived in the country – mainly from Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan – between Monday and Wednesday. Altogether, Finland has welcomed some 7,000 asylum seekers this year, nearly double the 3,651 it welcomed last year.

The border-crossing points in Helsinki, Turku and Northern Finland are especially cramped.

The staff of the reception centre in Pansio, Turku, have already erected tents to accommodate all of the asylum seekers. “More than 20 people have spent both nights in them. We're prepared to set up more tents, but we're running out of flat ground,” says Heimo Nurmi, the acting director of the reception centre.

The reception centre accommodated nearly 600 asylum seekers on Thursday, despite having an official capacity of only 225.

“We've got a few more apartments [at our disposal]. In addition, parishes for example have promised to create emergency places,” tells Nurmi.

Turku announced on Thursday that it will make room for an additional 200 asylum seekers in the vacant Perno School. In addition, the Heinänokka Camping Centre owned by the Turku and Kaarina Parish Union will be transferred temporarily to SPR and transformed into an emergency accommodation facility.

A decision on the matter was taken by the church council on Thursday. The camping centre is set to open its doors to the first 100 asylum seekers as early as next Monday.

Turku is hardly the only city to resort to tented accommodation as similar preparations have been made also in Joutseno and Rovaniemi. Altogether, SPR has tents to accommodate over 10,000 people.

The reception centres operated by SPR in Kemi, Rovaniemi and Tornio are already full to the brim. New asylum seekers arriving via Sweden are currently being accommodated in a former motel and home-making school in Rovaniemi as an emergency measure.

“We're anxiously waiting for the weekend to find out whether or not we have enough space. Ten to fifteen asylum seekers arrive here every day,” says Sirkka-Liisa Oinaala, the executive director for Lapland at SPR.

“We've considered the possibility of tented accommodation in case we run out of space. The tents are equipped with heating, but we'd have to set up shower and other facilities.”

Two large temporary reception centres have also been opened in the capital region: at Koskela Hospital and in Evitskog, Kirkkonummi. The centres can accommodate a total of 500 people, but dozens of new asylum seekers are arriving every day.

SPR is also about to re-open the Harjulinna Reception Centre in Siuntio that was closed in the first half of 2014 to make room for 35 16—17-year-old asylum seekers arriving in Finland alone. “We'll do it as soon as possible to mitigate the situation,” says Petri Kaukiainen, the executive director for Helsinki at SPR.

Toni Lehtinen, Janne Toivonen – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Jussi Partanen