Once they receive a residence permit, asylum seekers often want to move to Finland’s bigger cities. The most popular destination of all, of course, is the capital Helsinki and its surrounding municipalities.
The movement is now much harder after a change in the guidelines the Immigration Service issued to reception centres. The centres will in future not pay the security deposits required to rent an apartment in the capital region unless the customer has a job or a study place already lined up.
That’s a big hurdle for most successful asylum seekers, and it is likely that many of them will now stay longer in the provincial towns that hosted them while their application was processed. Those working with asylum seekers say the policy is grounded in resource questions.
“There’s a shortage of flats in the capital region and it’s difficult to provide services there,” said Pirjo Puolakka of the eastern municipality of Kotka’s migration unit.
Moving to the capital is an understandable goal for new arrivals. In and around Helsinki there are bigger networks of people with links to their home countries, a more dynamic local economy and – crucially – much better chances of finding work.
According to Puolakka, however, sometimes refugees can have an overly optimistic view of Helsinki.
“Expectations were unrealistic and some have moved back,” said Puolakka. “It wasn’t easy to get work after all, apartments weren’t as good as hoped and there were long queues for services.”
In place of the rush to the south, reception centres and regional authorities are now expected to distribute refugees to local councils, once they receive a residence permit. People can still move to Helsinki, but will do so at their own cost.