Asylum seekers: The situation at the Laajakoski reception center is “absolutely catastrophic”

by , under Enrique Tessieri

We’ve been getting some distressing reports from the Laajakoski asylum reception center near the southeastern city of Kotka, where there appears to be a serious breakdown of trust between the management/staff and a number of asylum seekers. 

In November, a petition was signed by most of the 250-odd asylum seekers at the reception center. They pointed out some of the issues (see below) but their overriding demand was that the management and staff should be changed.

Even if running an asylum reception center isn’t easy, one would expect high standards from a humanitarian association like the Red Cross. Even if organizations can make mistakes when hiring staff, what is unpardonable is if that they do little to nothing to correct the problems at the reception center.

Source: Mikko T. Helminen and Wael Cheblak.

We have written a lot about reception centers in Finland this year. One of these was in May when we wrote about Kolari asylum reception center deputy manager, Jari Sillantie, who was sacked for being unfit for the job. If Sillantie’s Facebook is a reflection of his view of migrants and asylum seekers, he “likes” Islamophobic politicians like Perussuomalaiset* (PS) MP Laura Huhtasaari and “likes” causes such as Suomi Ensin, a far-right group.

Sillantie is apparently running for MP in 2019 for the Reformi-Suomi party. One of the candidates of that party is James Hirvisaari, who was sentenced for ethnic agitation and who was sacked from the PS because he took a picture and distributed on social media of a friend making a Nazi salute in parliament.

If one were especially critical, one could go as far as to claim that there is little regulation of  asylum centers by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) because of the anti-immigration climate in Finland. Nobody cares or cares too little about asylum seekers since the government has made it clear that it doesn’t want these people here.

If there are poorly managed and run asylum centers in Finland, there are others that are run well.

We cannot and shouldn’t generalize.

A privileged country

Finland is a privileged country because it can offer asylum to people fleeing war and we should strive to treat these people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Last year, 32,476 asylum seekers came to Finland but that figure is expected to plummet in 2016 by about 70% to 10,000.

Like many poorly run asylum reception centers, the culprit is the management and the Laajakoski reception center is no exception. Poor management is defined by Migrant Tales  the opposite of what Mikkonen and Cheblak define above as good management of a reception center.

The manager of the Laajakoski asylum reception center is Saija Makkonen and the deputy manager Tiina Mesola.

Migrant Tales published part of a transcribed recording of a crippled Iraqi asylum seeker at Laajakoski who uses a prosthetic leg. The conversation between Mesola and the asylum seeker got into an argument when he asked for a pillow and blanket.

The Iraqi asylum seeker’s limb and prosthetic leg that causes his limb to bleed and is broken in three parts.

Here’s part of the conversation between the Mesola (TM) and the asylum seeker (AS) below:

TM: “You have this much stuff [that you brought from the other center] and they give you nothing? When you come here. I saw all your luggage.

AS: Yes, it is mine [the luggage].


AS: Check it out.

TM: And they [the other camp] give you nothing? And you get nothing from Finland? Make it special that you go back home!”

According to an asylum seeker, this is not the first time that one of the managers threatens the residents by telling them to go back to their country. Considering that some of these asylum seekers have fled violence and war, it is pretty unacceptable for a staffer of a reception center to tell a refugee to go back to where he or she came from.

It’s like telling a Jew who fled Auschwitz to go back to the former death camp.

Another case at Laajakoski involves an old lady who is a Muslim. The management told her that she needn’t go to a hospital but to a mosque. A nurse at the reception center allegedly told another woman in her mid-forties suffering from cirrhosis that she doesn’t need to be treated at a hospital because she was going to die anyway.

“You were given a negative decision [from Migri] and I can’t help you,” the nurse is alleged to have told her. “I don’t care if you die here or in Iraq but it’s not my business.”

An asylum seeker at the camp described the atmosphere and situation of asylum seekers at the center as “absolutely catastrophic.”

“There is an unwritten agreement between the asylum seekers and the management and staff,” another asylum seeker said. “We avoid each other as much as possible.”

Three suicide cases

Suicide is a serious matter but what happens if the staff belittles such an act?

One resident of the reception center wanted to take his life by dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight. The man was stopped from carrying such an act by other asylum seekers. The man was upset because he was forced to pay 150 euros of his 316-euro monthly allowance for not showing up for a doctor’s appointment and  interpretation fees because he was apparently given poor instructions by the staff.

Bus services to and from the reception center are deficient.

The deputy manager called the police after the incident and told the other asylum seekers that if they want to kill themselves in this manner they should do it outside. Another staff member told them that he’d give them petrol and matches but that it should be done outside of the building.

Another suicide attempt took place in winter when an asylum seeker attempted to jump from a window. The management told him that it would be useless to jump from such a height because it was too low from the ground and because there was snow, which would act as a cushion. He was instructed to jump from the roof if he was serious about killing himself.

In early November, a petition was signed by the majority of the residents demanding that the Red Cross takes action to change the management and staff of the reception center.

“The only way we can talk to [deputy manager] Tiina [Mesola] is from a staff member, who then contacts her and gives her decision, which is usually negative,” he said. “The management is horrendous. It seems they take joy in bullying us and making our lives miserable.”

Below are some of the complaints that the Laajakoski asylum reception center residents have made to Migri and the Red Cross.

Migrant Tales told Kymen Sanomat  about some of the problems at the reception center.  When Kymen Sanomat approached the management about the long list of complaints below and elsewhere in this story, they stated that they “do not comment on individual cases.”

Kymen Sanomat will publish its story on Sunday.

If the complaints below are true, it shows that the management and staff have left the asylum seekers’ welfare to chance and have passed a point of no return thanks to mistrust.

Below are some complaints handed to Migrant Tales by asylum seekers at the Laajakoski reception center:

  • Medical attention is poor. There are only two nurses that are available for one hour from 9-10 Monday to Friday.
  • The nurse doesn’t sometimes come at 9 but 15-30 minutes late because she may be at a meeting. There are long lines to see the nurse. In an hour it’s impossible for the nurse to attend everyone;
  • Getting an appointment with a doctor is very difficult. The nurse has allegedly told the asylum seekers that they cannot see a doctor because they don’t have any funds;
  • One asylum seeker was playing football and he broke his hand. He went to the nurse, who told him that he didn’t need to go to a doctor. It took the asylum seeker ten days to see a doctor. He was diagnosed with a broken hand;
  • The asylum seeker who broke his hand was sent to the hospital alone without an interpreter or any help. The person is illiterate and doesn’t speak English;
  • When a fellow asylum seeker at the camp interpreted for him over the phone when he went to the hospital, he got scolded by the nurse who told him that he had no business helping him;
  • Asylum seekers miss doctor and dentist appointments because they are just sent by themselves with a map and directions in English, which they may not speak;
  • If an asylum seeker feels sick, they are usually told by the nurse “to relax”and given a painkiller like Burana;
  • Many asylum seekers believe that the nurses would care less for their welfare;
  • A sick woman in her mid-40s suffering from cirrhosis of the liver was told by the camp nurse to go back to her country because she’s going to die anyway;
  • Apparently, to save money, an old lady’s religion was mocked at when the camp deputy manager told her that she doesn’t need to go to hospital but should to a mosque instead;
  • The crippled asylum seeker with a prosthetic leg, who asked for a pillow and blanket and was told to go back to his country, had to walk back to the camp 9kms away in cold weather because the deputy manager doesn’t approve any rides to residents unless approved by her;
  • Even if in Finland a person has the freedom to roam in the forest (jokamiehenoikeus), the asylum seekers of the camp were expressly prohibited to fish even if they had purchased fishing licenses;
  • The staff had carried out a false fire alarm so they can search the asylum seekers’ rooms;
  •  The management dictates cleaning shifts and asylum seekers don’t have this right;
  • The manager and deputy manager make the rules. When the residents ask the deputy manager why such rules are made she responds that it’s because of the manager and vice-versa;
  • A year has passed and the head of the camp, Saija Makkonen, is rarely if ever seen at the center talking to asylum seekers;
  • The staff freely speak about the asylum seekers’ personal matters like relationships;
  • The management treats asylum seekers unfairly. Those that speak Turkish are treated better than those that speak Arabic. The deputy manager is of Turkish origin;
  • The staff isn’t helpful at all and do basically what the manager orders them. A minority are helpful;
  • Since the camp was opened in January, there have never held a weekly or monthly meeting between staff/management and asylum seekers;
  • When an asylum seeker gets a negative decision from Migri, Tiina tells the person she like (because the person speaks Turkish) that it’s so sad you got such a decision. For others, like Iraqis, she has told them that you deserve such a decision;
  •  Some Iraqi asylum seekers have preferred to return back to their country because of the poor treatment they receive from the management;
  • Locals have brought clothes and toys for children but the deputy manager turned down these presents because she said nobody deserves them at the camp.

If the management of the Laajakoski asylum reception center wishes, we are ready to publish their rebuttal concerning these allegations.

The Finnish name for the Finns Party is the Perussuomalaiset (PS). The English names of the party adopted by the PS, like True Finns or Finns Party, promote in our opinion nativist nationalism and xenophobia. We, therefore, prefer to use the Finnish name of the party on our postings. The direct translation of “Perussuomalaiset” is “basic” or “fundamental Finns.”