Finland’s first clinic for undocumented migrants was received with both enthusiasm and opposition

By Anna Simola,
PICUM Volunteer, 
Former researcher on migration related issues at the University of Tampere, Finland.

The recent estimates on the number of undocumented migrants in Finland vary between 4000 up to 10 000 people (YLE, 7.9.2011). However, until recently the common belief has been that undocumented migration is a phenomenon that does not really concern Finland. Consequently, there has been virtually no public discussion about the special needs that people in an irregular situation may have and in addition, no services have been available which took into account these needs. The situation was slightly improved when the first Global Clinic providing basic health care for undocumented migrants was established in Helsinki in April 2011.

Finland has a centralised social security system that makes it difficult for people to manage without a Finnish social security number, which is demanded for example at hospitals. In addition, for a person outside of the social security system an emergency room visit costs 167 euros – a sum of money that most of the undocumented migrants do not have. Furthermore, many avoid the hospitals in fear of being reported to the police by the personnel, which has occasionally happened. The Global Clinic allows the patients to stay anonymous and all the information is registered based on pseudonyms. (HS 28.1.2011)

The model for the Global Clinic comes from Sweden, where a total of seven clinics for undocumented migrants operate around the country (HS, 29.1.2011). The initiative for the opening of the clinic came from an individual physician Dr. Pekka Tuomola who works for the Helsinki Deaconess Institute. The institute has provided the clinic the premises, equipment and some medicines, but in other respects, the clinic is run entirely by volunteer doctors and nurses. The Global Clinic operates at a secret location for a few hours a week.  At the moment the clinic is only able to offer the services of a general practitioner and, in addition, there are some specialists who have agreed to give phone consultations.  In more severe, life-threatening situations the only option the doctors of the clinic have is to send the patient to a hospital. (Lääkärilehti 27.1.2011)

The founders of the Global Clinic of Helsinki emphasize that their activity is completely legal and that there should be no need to fear any actions on part of the officials (HS). However, the representative of the Police Department of the Ministry of Interior stated in an interview of a current affairs program, that even though the police can understand the motivation to help undocumented migrants to take care of their health, the police is above all obliged to follow the rule of law and to find the persons irregularly residing in the country.

In the same program the Finnish Minister of Interior Mrs. Päivi Räsänen spoke against the anonymous clinics. She said that she sees danger in the establishment of an alternative,  ‘underground’ health care system where patients are not obliged to state their names. She added that even though irregular migration is a small scale phenomenon in Finland, in the EU it is a constantly growing problem that should be mutually solved. According to Minister Räsänen, the main objective should be the reduction of the number of undocumented migrants and ‘getting rid of the problem’.

Dr. Tuomola from the Global Clinic approaches the question from a different point of view:  “It is completely inhumane that a group of people is excluded from all assistance. It is a doctor’s obligation to help people regardless of their status” (HS). Also the Finnish Medical Association, the trade union of the Finnish physicians, stated recently that the society should not refuse to grant the undocumented migrants the right to receive adequate care and should not intervene in a physician’s obligation to treat patients based on clinical need. (Lääkäriliitto 27.9.2011)

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