The number of asylum seekers has clearly decreased during the current pandemic. In April, Migri stated that no asylum applications had been submitted at Finland’s borders since the restrictions on border traffic were implemented on 19 March 2020. Asylum interviews – where the applicant’s identity is determined, the reason for seeking asylum and the itinerary on how they came to Finland is discussed -, only the busiest were carried out.
The interviews happen on premises where workers and customers can be adequately protected against possible infections. The interview rooms used have, among other things, protective plexuses to protect against droplet infections. The interviews can be done remotely.
Risks from foreigners taken into account
An application for international protection can also be made during a coronavirus epidemic, Migri states on their site. The application can only be made in Finland, as usual. The police or the Border Guard will receive the application when the asylum seeker arrives in Finland and directs the applicant to the reception center.
The website tells that if an asylum seeker arrives in Finland from abroad, the reception center will direct them to conditions equivalent to 14 days of quarantine, where close contacts with other customers and staff are minimized. The practice is the same as for Finns returning from abroad.
All asylum seekers are subjected to an initial medical examination at the reception center in accordance with normal practice. The reception centers also have health care staff. The Finnish Immigration Service has instructed asylum seekers in their mother tongue on coronavirus and the effects of exceptional circumstances.
In September, MTV News published an article, where they said that only 200 asylum seekers had arrived in Finland on their own since March, compared to more than 32,000 in 2015. In 2019, 2,467 asylum applications were submitted to Finland. The number was quite normal, but as travel became more difficult, there were practically no new asylum seekers coming to Finland. Once the restrictions have been lifted, the numbers have risen slightly again, but are still clearly lower than at the beginning of the year. Now, there have been more asylum seekers since that, but from what I’ve found out, it’s not a lot more.
“We apologize for the delay”
Migri said earlier this week that the Finnish Immigration Service’s appointments are still congested, but that appointments are being released at a steady pace. In their bulletin, they ask that customers only book one time from the appointment service so that there are enough times for as many people as possible. I looked at what the appointment booking service had to offer and for example, no times were found for those applying for citizenship in Helsinki between 16.11.2020 and 19.02.2021. It really is a long time. However, they state in their site that they are currently working on exploring the possibility of increasing appointment times.
So, we don’t have that many people coming in – what, then, delays services? Here, taking into account MTV News, the answer seems to be re-applications. The applicants are therefore already in Finland. The MTV news article highlighted the information that the years 2015 and 2016 still heavily impact and that there are many re-applicants. They often have grounds that require a new interview and decision-making.
The reception centers have prepared for the coronavirus, Migri affirmed in their statement. The largest infection cluster yet was at the Nihtisilta Reception Center back in May. Migri declared the reception centers have prepared for the coronavirus with action plans and that in the case of centralized operations, new circumstances have required new operating methods.
Precautionary and operational guidelines have been issued since January and will be evaluated and updated as appropriate. According to the information, space and accommodation solutions have been planned for the reception centers for possible quarantine and isolation situations. The centers have been given the opportunity to acquire additional separate premises on a temporary basis, if necessary, in order to make the necessary arrangements.
Transfers of clients between centers are kept to a minimum during the epidemic. Reception centers have been asked to provide the necessary protective equipment.
Taking care of basic needs is most important even during the pandemic
In many ways, the corona situation is also reflected in the daily lives of reception centers. Migri attests that cleaning of the centers has been intensified and dining has been staggered. There has also been a temporary curtailment of leisure activities. Personal transactions in reception centers are sought to be restricted, and visits by outsiders were prohibited during the first wave. Now they are probably very limited, should the rights exist at all.
According to Migri’s statement, asylum seekers are provided with instructions on the corona and exceptional circumstances in several languages - for example, it is very important to share information on prevention of the virus, exceptional circumstances in Finland and gathering restrictions. Information is provided in the most common mother tongues of the applicants. The asylum seeker always receives information from the staff of their own reception center.
Current information on the situation
How does coronavirus appear really, in real life? We asked Anna Hyytiäinen, whom we have referenced to in our previous blogposts, and she said that ‘not so terribly’ and that Mosaiikki‘s customers have been in Finland for a long time.
Hyytiäinen told us that the situation was very difficult during the spring – especially for their clients, because everything was closed. When they had no access to any day centres, people could not shower or wash their clothes, or they did not have any places to hang around or have a cup of tea. Many of the clients in Helsinki are spending their nights in the shelters, but they have to leave 8 o’clock in the morning. So, a long day outside and even longer when you have no place to go to.
“Now, it’s better,” she told us, “because the day centers are open, though of course, they have limits to their services because of the pandemic.” Some of their clients have had a positive test results and those in need of care have been able to go to a hospital and receive medicine, if needed.
Current information can be found, but there is relatively little from what I could find. Perhaps the situation of coronavirus when it comes to asylum seekers is not as media-sexy as the crimes committed by immigrants, which further drives divisions and raises prejudices – certainly on both sides. All in all, everyone has been affected because of COVID-19 and every bad thing has a much more dramatic effect to those already in need. The current situation and ignorance are difficult for all of us, and the rising infection statistics are not a very ‘Christmas spirited’, which we all could definitely use.
Please wear masks, keep your distances and, above all, pay attention and be empathetic to others.
Lastly, here is the current information published on 20.10. by Migri, taken directly from the English translation:
Updates about the corona situation: migri.fi/coronavirus
Many matters can be dealt with online in Enter Finland, do not visit a service point if you are unwell!
These web pages contain information about the effects of the coronavirus on the services and operations of the Finnish Immigration Service:
You can find health advice and up-to-date information about the corona virus in Finland at the website of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL). For latest updates on the coronavirus, visit the website of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).