Cities welcome refugees - Helsinki


The Finnish capital city Helsinki, chair of our working group on migration and integration, has long been a city of asylum, having welcomed thousands of Somali refugees since the early 90s.

Finland expects to receive 25,000 to 30,000 asylum applications this year, compared to 3,600 in 2014. Most of these asylum seekers will settle in large cities. Three cities in the Helsinki metropolitan area (Helsinki, Vantaa and Espoo) were already home to over 60% of Finland’s immigrant population before the asylum crisis.

The Finnish national government allocates compensation for the reception of refugees to host communities for a maximum of three years during the asylum procedure. While to most European cities the Finnish model would seem like an excellent practice, ensuring support from the national level according to the number of refugees hosted by the city, it is not without its shortcomings.

A city in Finland receives €6,845 per year for children under seven and €2,300 for older children and adults. The compensation for resettled refugees is extended by one year. This compensation procedure was first implemented in 1993 and has since been adjusted to meet the ‘price index of social services’. If this was to meet the real cost of hosting an asylum seeker today, the compensation would have to amount to €10,827 per child and €3,319 per adult.

Finnish cities do also receive refunds according to real costs for a maximum of 10 years for specific services such as long term medical or other care caused by disability or illness. Other services like child protection, unaccompanied minors and interpretation are also refunded. However, once the refunding period is over, the city must cover the costs of service provision for refugees out of its own budget.

Helsinki’s position is that the compensation should reflect the real costs incurred to cities: services like early childcare or labour market integration should be well resourced and supported according to the real needs of cities. Training needs are currently not reimbursed, and waiting periods for training courses are extremely long.

In Finland, 10 cities including Helsinki were involved in a consultation process on the management of the EU Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) allocated to Finland. Non-governmental organisations were also broadly included in this consultation process, emphasising the focus on needs at local level. However, large cities were not included in the national AMIF implementation committee. The development, follow up and evaluation of the implementation of the AMIF should happen in active dialogue with cities. To be effective, national programmes need local expertise and insight into what really happens in terms of integration in suburbs, schools, kindergartens and healthcare services.

Helsinki, represented by Ritva Viljanen, the city’s vice mayor for education and cultural affairs, has called on the European Commission to assist national governments and cities to overcome the resources challenge through the AMIF. This would allow city staff, working together with local governmental partners, to ensure a smooth operation in cities for the reception of asylum seekers through to the integration process.