Newsroom / CNA
The government of Finland announced on Thursday that it will be accepting up to 175 asylum seekers from Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Italy, in a bid to facilitate their humanitarian situation in EU member states in the Mediterranean.
The Interior Ministry announced that Finland will primarily receive unaccompanied minors and single-parent families who are likely to have grounds for international protection and who come from countries where security is particularly poor, such as Syria and Afghanistan.
Up to 175 asylum seekers could be relocated from Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Italy, depending on where the situation is the most serious, the Ministry said.
The Ministry of Interior, in cooperation with the Finnish Immigration Service, will decide at a later stage a more exact timetable for the relocations and from which countries individuals will be transferred.
Relocations will be carried out in stages. “They will be scheduled over a sufficiently long period of time so that the Finnish Immigration Service can ensure that applicants are properly received and that their special needs are taken into account” the Interior Ministry said, adding that the actual asylum process will start when they arrive in Finland.
Compensation for costs arising during the reception phase of asylum seekers will be provided through the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), while Finland can also apply for funding from the European Commission for the costs through the AMIF emergency assistance mechanism.
Other costs are also expected to arise, for example, from integration, with the Ministry noting that, the 2020 Budget already contains provisions for 4,000 first asylum applications, of which 200 are estimated to be unaccompanied minors.
In 2019, about 2,500 asylum seekers arrived in Finland. In recent years, the number has been smaller than before 2015, when more than 32,000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland. Before 2015, the number of applicants had been relatively stable between 3,000 and 4,000 per year.
The Interior Ministry of Finland noted that EU countries in the Mediterranean region play a key role in managing migration to Europe. “As migration pressures increase, their reception capacity may be exceeded. As a result, asylum seekers, particularly children, are experiencing additional human distress and suffering” it is added.
The Ministry notes that the measures agreed on Thursday respond to the acute circumstances in the Mediterranean region. “As part of the EU, Finland still wants to promote, as a matter of priority, a sustainable solution that will reform the Common European Asylum System and that ensures it is operational also during times of crisis.”
UNHCR welcomes Finland’s offer
The UN refugee Agency welcomed Finland’s “gesture of solidarity”, noting in an announcement that priority will be given to unaccompanied and separated children, relocating them from the alarmingly overcrowded Greek Islands.
“Finland’s generous decision will not only provide much needed help for vulnerable children, women and men, currently suffering in desperate conditions, it will also send a strong message of solidarity to EU member states on EU’s external borders. We hope that Finland’s act of solidarity can inspire others to follow,” said Henrik Nordentoft, UNHCR’s Representative for Northern Europe.
According to UNHCR, more than 36,000 asylum-seekers are now staying in reception centres in Greece, originally designed for 5,400 people. A third of the population are children, most below the age of twelve, and nearly 2,000 children without parents or relatives in Greece are at risk at island reception centres.
Emilia Strovolidou, a Public Information Officer at UNHCR Cyprus, told CNA that solidarity among countries is important. She also said that the position of UNHCR is that countries need to cooperate on refugee issues, show solidarity and share responsibilities. “There needs to be support on the part of the EU” she said and pointed to the support the Republic of Cyprus already received through EU funds.