Finland to close all but northernmost border crossing with Russia

By Reuters - November 22, 2023
158
Prime Minister Petteri Orpo of Finland briefs Finnish media in a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, November 22, 2023. Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) –Finland will close all but the northernmost crossing point on its border with Russia from midnight on Friday in a bid to halt a flow of asylum seekers to the Nordic nation, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on Wednesday.

Since the beginning of the month, more than 600 people without valid travel documents to the European Union have come to Finland via Russia, prompting Helsinki to shut several crossings and accuse Moscow of funnelling migrants. The Kremlin denies the charge.

“The government has today decided to close more border stations,” Orpo told a press conference.

The asylum seekers come from a range of nations including Yemen, Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, according to immigration authorities.

The European Union border agency Frontex plans to deploy officers and equipment to Finland as soon as next week in response to a request from Helsinki, a spokesperson said.

EU migration commissioner Ylva Johansson said on Tuesday Finland had asked for 60 Frontex officers on top of 10 already stationed along its 1,340-kilometre frontier with Russia.

Earlier on Wednesday, Estonia accused Russia of involvement in “a hybrid attack operation” to bring migrants to its border, after 75 migrants – mostly from Somalia and Syria – attempted to enter from Russia since last week.

The Baltic country said it had prepared to close border crossings if migration pressure from Russia rose, and to deal with migrants if they tried to enter outside official crossings.

The Finnish border guard said on Wednesday that unauthorized entries continued at crossing points with Russia and had moved further north along the border to Vartius and Salla, two frontier stations that still accepted asylum applications.

Finland said Russia was letting migrants through those two crossing points by foot despite an agreement that they could only be crossed by car.

“There are growing signs that the situation is worsening on the eastern border,” Orpo said.

Finland will shut three of the four remaining border crossing points from midnight on Friday, leaving only the Raja-Jooseppi crossing in the Arctic open. All other crossings will be shut until Dec. 23, also for Finns wanting to enter Russia.

“Raja-Jooseppi is the northernmost (border crossing) and it requires a real effort to get there,” Orpo said.

The government will seek to amend legislation that prevents it from closing the entire border, he added.

President Sauli Niinisto said on Monday repatriating people who do not meet the criteria for asylum had become impossible and called for an EU-wide solution to stop uncontrollable entry to Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.

The Kremlin said on Monday it had lodged a formal protest over Finland‘s partial border closure, saying the decision reflected an anti-Russian stance.

In 2021, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia accused Moscow’s close ally Belarus of artificially creating a migrant crisis on their borders by flying in people from the Middle East and Africa and attempting to push them across the frontier – an accusation Belarus repeatedly denied.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto; writing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; editing by Alexandra Hudson, Christina Fincher and Mark Heinrich)