In the midst of an asylum housing crisis in Austria, a new initiative invites refugees to stay in people’s spare rooms.
Finland’s prime minister has offered his private home in northern Finland to asylum seekers, at a time of a massive flow of refugees to Western Europe through land and sea.
Juha Sipila told state media that his home in Kempele, located 500km north of the capital Helsinki, could be used to accommodate asylum seekers after the end of the year.
“We should all look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we can help… My house is not being used much at the moment. My family lives in Sipoo [east of Helsinki] and the prime minister’s residence is located in Kesaranta,” Sipila told public broadcaster YLE.
The prime minister also called on other citizens, churches and voluntary organisations in the country of five million inhabitants to open their facilities to asylum seekers.
Recently, thousands of people from Iceland, another Nordic country, offered their homes to refugees through a Facebook page after the government announced it would accept only 50 refugees.
Maija Karjalainen, secretary of international affairs for the conservative Finns Party, said that the prime minister’s move was positive, but could not be implemented by many Finns.
“It is a move to be an example for others in helping refugees, but we should not forget that the prime minister is in a unique position, having a house available for this purpose,” she told Al Jazeera.
“Not all Finns have the space, finances or the capacity to do the same.”
The anti-immigration Finns Party is in a coalition government with Prime Minister Sipila’s Centre Party.
Finnish citizens who talked to Al Jazeera have varied views about the prime minister’s initiative.
“This [the PM’s move] is upholding and continuation of the Finnish tradition to deal with this sort of crisis,” Reeta Paakkinen, a 36-year-old, non-fiction writer from Helsinki, told Al Jazeera.
“In 1939, when the USSR attacked Finland, hundreds of thousands of Karelians were evacuated from their home region to West Finland and accommodated in fellow people’s homes… My own family was among these people, so I really appreciate the move of our prime minister.”
After the 1939-1940 Winter War, started after an invasion of the USSR, approximately 430,000 Finns lost their homes. At the end of the war, Finland was forced to cede part of the Karelian Isthmus, which is located in Russia today.
In contrast, Timo Tuomaala, a 39-year-old from Oulu believes the move is “ridiculous” and “aims to divert attention from other problems”.
“Here in Finland, we have lots of problems with retired and other needy or poor people, from whom the Finnish government is planning to cut a lot [of funds]. His move is not a sincere move,” Tuomaala, an adult student who retired due to sickness, told Al Jazeera.
The prime minister’s move comes as thousands of refugees stream into Austria from Hungary over land and as Greece and Italy face a surge of refugees reaching their shores on boats.
The Finnish government on Friday doubled its projection for asylum seekers in 2015 from 15,000 to 30,000, compared to less than 4,000 last year.
Refugee facilities are overpopulated in Finland due to the recent unprecedented flow of refugees into the country.
The Oulu region in northern Finland, where the prime minister’s apartment is located, reportedly has a shortage of housing for asylum seekers.
‘Lack of solidarity’
In his remarks on Saturday, Sipila said he hoped that his move would inspire others to share part of the burden in the recent refugee housing crisis. He also stressed the lack of solidarity in the EU over the issue of asylum seekers.
“Finland should do whatever is possible within the EU scope to help migrants coming to Europe,” Finns Party MP Karjalainen said.
“However, 30,000 is a crazy number for hosting asylum seekers as Finland is dealing with its own economic issues.”
All Finns who talked to Al Jazeera, agreed that Finland should carry out its responsibility in the recent refugee crisis happening within the EU.
Heini Kuusela, a 36-year-old journalist from Heinola, said Finland was a big country in size and could accommodate more refugees than it has been taking.
“There are small villages in Finland shutting down schools because there are not enough children attending. There is a room if there’s a will,” she said.
Tuomaala from Oulu agreed that refugees should be helped but stressed that Finns were generally suspicious of other ethnicities.
“Finns have always been a bit scared about things they don’t know properly. Also there has been an increasing number of criminal incidents by some migrant groups lately. And the Finnish judicial system gives short sentences in general, to both Finnish and migrants.”
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_uras