Tampere, Finland’s third-largest city, has been described as being on the “frontline” of the refugee crisis. The city has a population of almost 225,000, and hosts several hundred refugees and asylum seekers (including 880 asylum seekers from January 2014 to December 2015). This is small potatoes compared to some cities in nearby Sweden, or in Germany (Munich, for example, took in 24,000 in 2015). Nevertheless, it still presents a challenge for the city authorities.
In order to take a closer look at the local impact of the refugee crisis, we launched our ‘Cities & Refugees‘ project – aimed at fostering a Europe-wide dialogue between citizens, refugees and asylum seekers, NGOs, politicians, and European leaders. The emphasis will be on connecting local, everyday life at the city level to decisions made in Brussels and national capitals.
This week we’re looking at Tampere, Finland, and the thorny issue of funding. In Finland, the state is responsible for the reception of asylum seekers. Nevertheless, Finnish cities do have responsibility for some services, including organising preschool and primary education, and child welfare services. The Finnish government does pay municipalities for accepting refugees, which works out at €6,845 for children under the age of 7 and €2,300 for older refugees. Nevertheless, central government funding often fails to completely cover the costs.Curious to know more about paying for refugees in Tampere? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
We had a comment from Pedro, who thinks that refugees are “clearly being used as scapegoats by a system that does not address the health, social security, economic and housing crises“. In other words, he believes that the “burden” of refugees on municipal authorities is being exaggerated, and the real problems lie elsewhere. Is he right?
To get a response, we spoke to Marja Nyrhinen, Head Coordinator of Immigration Affairs at the City of Tampere. How would she respond?
Firstly, I would say that one shouldn’t always think of refugees and people as a ‘burden’. Refugees, for us, also mean opportunities in term of innovation and different ways of living and thinking. There are, having said that, certain costs when people arrive, especially if they come from very poor or difficult situations. One has to set up a new life in a new environment, and that might be costly (though not always).
However, I do think that the media nowadays tends to exaggerate the cost issue concerning public funding. So, I would say that refugees are not a big burden, but certainly the integration process needs some funding before people can get going and live normal lives.
We also had a comment from Cara, who argues that governments (including local governments) will have to invest in healthcare, housing, and education for refugees. Even if the amounts are being exaggerated, there is still a cost. So, who pays for that? Does the Finnish government provide enough financial support for local authorities that have to accommodate refugees?
No, it doesn’t. This is something we have been discussing with the government on the national level for years and years and years. There has been a tendency that the national government likes to give us new tasks and not take into consideration that things cost also on the local level. So, in that sense the answer is definitely ‘No’. But it’s not only a question of accommodation; it’s a question of having enough Finnish courses and getting people into these courses, and different kinds of employment issues and such. The costs tend to be here on the local level, and we are getting some funding from the government, but definitely not 100%.
Finally, we had a comment from Mike who argues that funding should be made provided to projects across Europe that support refugees. We asked Marja Nyrhinen what sort of EU funding was already available, and whether she believes more should be provided:
Of course it should, and it is. Two different programmes come to my mind immediately; one is the AMIF (the Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund), then there is Urban Innovative Actions. And there might be others, but they don’t pop into my mind just now. But the EU is providing funding.
One challenge with EU project funding, however, is that even if you find a very good solution and start something that is very useful and effective, it never gets permanent funding. I think it should be possible for a project – if it is successful and meets certain criteria – to be funded permanently (or at least on a longer basis than two or three years).
Should the EU compensate cities for hosting refugees? Are central governments doing enough to support local authorities in hosting refugees, or should they do more? And is the cost of the refugee crisis to Europe being exaggerated? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!