Red Cross reception operations supporting people arriving in Finland from Ukraine

Volunteer wearing Red Cross clothing talking to refugees at the harbour.
Photo: Ville Palonen / Suomen Punainen Risti

The Red Cross is helping people fleeing Ukraine in Finland by offering them accommodation, food, clothes and other basic necessities, in particular.

One of the main missions of the Red Cross is to help vulnerable people, such as refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. We help people in need regardless of their legal or social status.

In helping refugees, the most important thing is to meet their basic needs first: offer them food, water, warm clothes and a roof over their heads.

Aid immediately upon arrival

The Finnish Red Cross offers aid for people fleeing Ukraine immediately upon arrival in Finland.

Many people coming to Finland from Ukraine have been on an emotionally hard journey for several days, and it may be a long time since they last had a proper meal.

Donations to the Finnish Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund allow us to support the authorities by offering warm meals to people fleeing Ukraine already on the ferries from Tallinn to Helsinki.

Ukrainians have asked if the things are really for them. They are genuinely amazed by our help.
Tarja Tiitta-Nieminen, volunteer

Red Cross employees and trained volunteers are present to receive people arriving at Helsinki’s West Harbour. In the harbour, we offer people coming to Finland from Ukraine something to eat and drink, hygiene supplies and psychosocial support. We are present at the harbour to support the authorities. Our assistance with the reception situation began at the request of the Finnish Immigration Service.

“Our trained volunteers offer primary support for people arriving in the country. It can mean offering food or helping people find instructions in Ukrainian, but first and foremost, it is about warm presence,” Head of Immigration Work Unit Erja Reinikainen describes the aid.

The Red Cross can offer primary support alongside the authorities in many ways. At the request of the Finnish Immigration Service, e.g. in Raisio, our volunteers have been present at the police station to offer food and other support for people coming to be registered. Our volunteers are also helping to receive people coming to the country from Ukraine at Helsinki Airport.

Basic necessities and a roof over one’s head

Since March, the Finnish Red Cross has established several new reception units at the request of the Finnish Immigration service.

People seeking asylum or temporary protection are entitled to reception services. Some stay at reception centres, but a person seeking asylum or temporary protection in Finland can also arrange their own accommodation, i.e. stay in private accommodation, e.g. with relatives. Even then, the person is entitled to reception services, such as healthcare and social services.

We are offering services related to reception operations to thousands of people staying in private accommodation. However, the Red Cross does not arrange or guide people to private accommodation.

The Finnish Red Cross is currently running dozens of reception centres or units offering reception services around Finland. New units are also being established. Only back in February, the number of units was 12. In addition to the Red Cross, reception centres in Finland are maintained by the Finnish Immigration Service, municipalities, organisations and companies.

Two volunteers wearing Red Cross clothing carrying a bunk bed.
Red Cross volunteers from the Turku branch furnishing the reception centre in Kaarina. Photo: Suomen Punaisen Ristin Turun osasto

In situations of extensive immigration, the authorities and organisations are often very overloaded temporarily.

With high numbers of people coming to the country, accommodation facilities are sometimes arranged on a very tight schedule. This can mean that there are delays in primary support, e.g. in arranging equipment and furniture to apartments. However, the services are supplemented as quickly as possible.

Manager of the Rovaniemi reception centre Ritva Metsälampi explains that help from Red Cross volunteers is essential in establishing new reception centres. In Rovaniemi, new locations were quickly established for the reception centre.

In Northern Finland, volunteers from several Red Cross branches and the Voluntary Rescue Service Vapepa helped get reception centres up and running.

“Everywhere, volunteers have been helping with furnishing rooms and repairing furniture. They have been there to instruct people arriving at the reception centres, packing initial food packages and other starter kits, and offering breakfast and evening snacks to people arriving early in the morning or late at night.”

According to volunteers in Southwest Finland, the initial reactions of Ukrainians signing in to the reception centre have at times been incredulous.

“They have asked if the things are really for them. Are there not others in greater need? They are genuinely amazed by our help,” Tarja Tiitta-Nieminen from the Raisio branch describes the atmosphere at the local reception centre.

Helping means cooperation between authorities, organisations, donors and volunteers

In Finland, reception centres are established, maintained and closed down only upon request by the authorities.The Finnish Immigration Service is always responsible for funding statutory reception operations, also in reception centres maintained by the Finnish Red Cross.

However, acute needs can also be met with donations made to the Finnish Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. People fleeing Ukraine are helped in many ways in Finland with donated funds.

“The acute needs of people fleeing Ukraine have been met e.g. with clothes, hygiene supplies, drink, food and other basic necessities. Donations have also been used in arranging psychosocial support,” lists Head of National Preparedness Unit Aki Pihlaja.

In addition to volunteers, Ritva Metsälampi praises municipalities and residents for the smooth cooperation in Northern Finland. With the sudden need for donated goods for newly established reception centres, municipalities supported the Red Cross in communicating the need for help.

“Excellent cooperation has taken place with municipal authorities and residents in Rovaniemi, Kemi and Kemijärvi: when we have been in need of donated goods, municipalities have actively communicated about the collection activities in their channels. Residents donated great amounts of furniture, bed linen, tableware and other accommodation equipment. Furthermore, municipalities and other operators have donated office furniture.”

In the schools of Kemijärvi, the children drew and wrote welcome messages in Ukrainian to be taken to the reception centre’s apartments.

The needs of families with children are also otherwise taken into account in the reception centres in Lapland: In the Rovaniemi reception centre and its side locations, the supervised play area for children has received particularly good feedback.

“All centres have a supervised play area so that parents can focus on the information being provided. Employees and volunteers watch the children and play with them during that time. Children in Rovaniemi have also been able to take donated toys with them.”

How can I help people fleeing to Finland?

Follow our work in helping people affected by the Ukraine crisis
Follow our work in helping people affected by the Ukraine crisis
The Finnish Red Cross supports immigrants
The Finnish Red Cross supports immigrants