Mauri Ratilainen / Suomen Punainen Risti
Voluntary emergency care and first aid groups and psychologists were on call at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to welcome the evacuated until 5 January 2005.
Image: Mauri Ratilainen / Suomen Punainen Risti

When the disaster struck, 3,700 Finnish people were in the tsunami area. The Finnish Red Cross helped with the evacuations and provided emotional support in Finland.

The Finnish Red Cross immediately sent a group of aid workers to Thailand on the day following the tsunami. The aid workers accompanied travellers to Finland and the first evacuation flight from the disaster area arrived in Finland on 27 December 2004. A total of approximately 3,300 Finnish people from the tsunami area were brought to Finland with the help of the evacuation flights. Voluntary emergency care and first aid groups and psychologists were on call at the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport to welcome the evacuated until 5 January 2005.

Aid workers were sent to the disaster area very fast. Three days after the tsunami, a second group of aid workers was sent to Thailand. In the evening before the departure, the Finnish Red Cross alerted its own international aid personnel reserve. As soon as an hour from the alert, dozens of trained workers from the reserve had registered to leave for Thailand.

In addition to the tsunami area, a significant number of people participated in the aid work in Finland. In the Helsinki and Uusimaa region alone, 160 volunteers participated in the aid work. Among other things, the Finnish Red Cross distributed clothing aid to 500 people.

Telephone answering service supported relatives and evacuees

On 27 December 2004, the Finnish Red Cross started a telephone answering service for the evacuees from the disaster area and the relatives who were trying to contact their loved ones in the tsunami area. The volunteers and psychologists of the Finnish Red Cross emergency care group were on a round-the-clock duty on the phone and provided emotional support for those who needed it. The telephone answering service was continued until 5 January 2005 and during ten days, it received almost 800 calls.

Crisis meetings were organised for those in need of emotional support. The youth shelters were open 24 hours a day in the beginning of January 2005 and offered support to young people wanting to help their friends who had lost their loved ones. In the disaster that occurred on Boxing Day, 179 Finnish people died and 250 were hurt.

Donations to help the relatives

After the acute crisis phase, the Finnish Red Cross started a peer support programme for those who lost loved ones in the tsunami. In the spring and summer of 2005, five national support events were organised, with the loved ones of the deceased and the missing attending them.

During Christmas 2005, when a year had passed from the disaster, the Red Cross psychologists were on phone duty and offered emotional support from Christmas Day to Boxing Day.

The peer support programme continued until 2007. The people having lost their loved ones in the disaster were divided into five large groups, each of which gathered four times between the years 2005 and 2007. A total of 320 people, many of whom were children, participated in the peer support events. The preparedness group of Finnish Red Cross psychologists was responsible for organising the weekend meetings. The events helped advance the mourning and recovery process.

The Finnish peer support programme organised in the years 2005–2007 was one of the largest peer support programmes ever organised in Finland. A majority of the tsunami donations directed to be used in Finland was used to support those who lost their loved ones.