The Red Cross develops the quality of reception operations – the costs are also decreasing

Jussi Vierimaa / Finnish Red Cross
Successful integration begins during the very first days and weeks at the reception centres.
Image: Jussi Vierimaa / Finnish Red Cross

The number of asylum seekers has decreased significantly. As reception centres are being closed, the Finnish Red Cross is focusing on developing the quality of the services provided, which has also lead to significant financial savings. An example of this is moving from canteens to independent meals.

Last autumn, the Finnish Red Cross established almost a hundred reception units at short notice. The units were commissioned by the Finnish Immigration Service, as the Red Cross has a duty to support the authorities.

“A year ago we were able to expand our operations very quickly and keep the situation under control throughout Finland. The operation was successful thanks to our experience, thousands of volunteers, committed personnel and the plans made in advance with the authorities”, says Marita Salo, director of national programmes and organizational development at the Finnish Red Cross.

Giving up canteen-type meals creates significant savings

There were only a few premises ready for reception operations, which meant that most buildings needed to be renovated. The investment costs were seen in the high daily costs, especially in the Helsinki region where costs are greater than in other areas. This year, the costs have decreased significantly.

“The re-negotiation of rental and other service agreements, as well as moving from canteen-style meals to independent meals have brought about the most significant savings”, Salo says.

For example, moving from canteen-style meals to independent meals has decreased the meal costs of the FRC by 10–50 per cent in the Helsinki and Uusimaa region, depending on the centre.

“At maximum pace, we will have covered the expenses caused by the initial investments within a month. The opportunity to cook their own meals also improves the well-being of the asylum seekers and the atmosphere at the reception units”, says Petri Kaukiainen, the executive director of the Red Cross Helsinki and Uusimaa district.

Help from international experience

The international experience of the Finnish Red Cross has also been helpful in making operations more efficient. The mobile health unit used internationally in earthquakes and floods was adapted to the conditions in Finland, and the mobile unit helped in conducting the initial health checks for asylum seekers in a quick and efficient manner.

“With the unit, we have secured the asylum seekers’ access to the health services required by law”, says Salo.

Aiming for uniform national quality and early integration

The quality of operations has also been improved by increasing collaboration and sharing information and knowledge between all reception units. National guidance and training has been increased The aim is to ensure that operations are uniform and cost-efficient at a national level.

When developing reception operations, early support for integration has also been taken into account. Successful integration begins during the very first days and weeks at the reception centres. The employees and volunteers of the Finnish Red Cross introduce the asylum seekers to Finnish culture and customs in many ways as soon as the asylum seekers arrive. At that point, the motivation to learn the language and the culture is often at its highest.

Collaboration with the local municipality and local employers has also been increased. Dozens of asylum seekers have already had introductory periods in companies, and for some, the introductory period has led to employment.

“Even though many are receiving rejections to their application for asylum right now, many have received residency and are moving into municipalities. The volunteers are a great help when adapting to a new locality and creating important networks”, says Salo. You can still join the activities.

Reception work is a part of the Red Cross’s chain of aid

During 2015 there were almost 8,500 volunteers working in the reception operations of the Red Cross. In addition to this, the Red Cross also offered thousands of volunteers from other organisations a way to help.

Reception work is a part of the Red Cross’ chain of aid from countries in crisis to Finland. The Finnish Red Cross has maintained reception centres to support the authorities since 1990. The centres are managed cost-efficiently and in accordance with Red Cross principles such as humanity and impartiality.

Even in the midst of the peak in arrivals, the asylum seekers were treated with respect and they were offered medical aid, shelter and food.