You are here

Finland says to shut last border crossing to Russia

By AFP - Nov 28,2023 - Last updated at Nov 28,2023

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (centre) and Head of the Border and Coast Guard Division, Major General Matti Sarasmaa (left) listen as Finnish Interior Minister Mari Rantanen addresses a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

HELSINKI — Finland’s prime minister said on Tuesday the country will shut its last border crossing to Russia, following an influx of migrants which Helsinki claims is a hybrid attack orchestrated by Moscow.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said the closure would come into effect overnight between Wednesday and Thursday and last until December 13.

The Nordic country, which shares a 1,340-kilometre  border with Russia, has seen a surge in undocumented migrants seek asylum on its border with Russia in November.

From the start of August, nearly 1,000 migrants have entered Finland without a visa through the eastern border crossing points.

“Finland is the target of a Russian hybrid operation. This is a matter of national security,” Rantanen said.

Last week, Finland’s northernmost eastern border crossing, Raja-Jooseppi, became the sole entry point to Russia, following the closure of the other seven by the Nordic country.

Asylum seekers will be limited to applying for protection at “open border crossing points for air and maritime traffic”, meaning ports and airports, according to a government statement.

“This is an organised activity, not a genuine emergency,” Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said of the surge.

He added that the “ease with which the migrants found their way to the remote border crossing point at Raja-Jooseppi is also evidence of this”.

“It is not just the number of arrivals that is at issue, but the phenomenon itself,” Orpo said.

Finland’s relations with its eastern neighbour soured after the invasion of Ukraine.

After Finland acceded to the US-led military alliance NATO in April, reversing its decades-long policy of military non-alignment, Russia warned of “countermeasures”.

 

‘Do not come’ 

 

The influx of migrants on its border has pushed Finland to balance its national security with its international obligations.

Already last week, the government sought to completely shut the border but the proposal was blocked as disproportionate by Finland’s Chancellor of Justice.

While the border can be closed in exceptional circumstances it has to be proportionate and some access points for asylum seekers have to be ensured.

Despite being a drastic measure, the government’s proposal to restrict asylum seekers to ports and airports passed scrutiny, and was backed by officials citing intelligence on increasing migration.

Asked whether Finland would let migrants endure freezing conditions without granting them entry across the border, Orpo said that “without the changed policy of the Russian authorities, this phenomenon would not exist”.

“We trust the Border Guard’s judgement and ability to respond to different situations,” Orpo said.

Rantanen said the migrants have “a responsibility in deciding whether they come to the border or not”.

“Our message is clear. Do not come. The border is closed,” she added.

The Border Guard said that so far the pressure had been focused on the crossing points instead of Finland’s long wilderness border, which is mostly guarded by a light wildlife fence.

Anticipating that Moscow could use migrants as political pressure, Finland in February began building a 200-kilometre fence along its Russian border.

But only three kilometres of the fence is finished.

Even with the border fully closed, it remains uncertain how Finland would deal with those crossing illegally.

From a legal standpoint, a migrant is entitled to submit an asylum application even if they enter illegally.

Orpo said Finland’s aim is to normalise the situation on the border “as quickly as possible”.

“It is in everyone’s interest, including Russia’s,” he added.

 

up
41 users have voted.


Newsletter

Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.

PDF