October 2, 2015 / 11:00 AM / 2 years ago

Finland raises 2015 forecast for asylum seekers to 50,000

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Asylum seekers attend the "Let's play bAll together" event, which is a sports and welcoming event arranged by the locals for refugees, at a refugee center in Hennala, Lahti, Finland September 30, 2015.Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland on Friday raised its estimate for the number of asylum-seekers expected to reach the country this year to about 50,000 from 30,000 previously, after a heightened influx in September.

Drawn by an existing Iraqi community in Finland and eased asylum criteria, thousands of Iraqi refugees arrived last month after a long journey through Central Europe and neighboring Sweden, crossing the border at Tornio near the Arctic Circle.

"A new railway connection from southern Sweden to Lulea (up north), due to open on Saturday, may in the short term increase the number of asylum seekers coming to Finland," the interior ministry said in a statement.

It said its new forecast, when Finland's total population of 5.5 million is taken into account, resembles the numbers seeking asylum in Germany or Sweden, the two most favored destinations for migrants streaming into Europe.

More than 500,000 refugees and migrants have arrived from the Middle East, Africa and Asia this year - the continent's biggest migration wave since the end of World War Two.

Finland is unused to mass immigration. It has registered 18,400 asylum seekers this year, compared with 3,600 in all of 2014. Finland abstained from a majority vote of the EU's 28 interior ministers last month to set mandatory quotas for redistributing migrants from Italy and Greece.

Helsinki is now taking several measures to tighten asylum policies. It has suspended decision-making on asylum claims by Iraqis and Somalis, saying it would reassess whether they had genuinely been threatened by war or persecution back home.

The Nordic country's government is also looking to reduce cash and social integration benefits for asylum seekers.

Last month, it started random border checks in the town of Tornio and set up a registration center there to better control refugee flows in the north.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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