Finland, a country of 5.5 million people on the edge of the Arctic with vast expanses of forests and reindeer roaming the wilds, has suddenly and unexpectedly emerged as a top destination for Iraqis who are crossing the Mediterranean to Europe along with hundreds of thousands of others fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Some 11,900 Iraqis have applied for asylum in Finland this year, accounting for 70 percent of all claims. More than 8,600 arrived in September alone.
Finnish officials say the sudden increase seems to be partly driven by online rumors about quick handling of asylum applications, generous benefits and an abundance of jobs. “We don’t know where these ideas came from,” said Hanna Kautto, a spokeswoman for the Finnish Immigration Service.
In reality, Finland’s reception for asylum-seekers differs little from other EU countries, and its economy has entered its fourth year of recession.