Last Tuesday, 55 asylum seekers were reported at Finnish border posts, and on Wednesday afternoon the number was 66. Most of the migrants came from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.
Finnish and Russian border police have been working together for years to ensure that people without a valid passport or visa cannot enter the border area. According to the Finnish government, the Russian authorities no longer respect this agreement. “It is clear that these people are receiving assistance to reach the border,” Prime Minister Petteri Orbo said.
Relations between Russia and Finland, which share a 1,340-kilometre border, have deteriorated significantly since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Finland’s subsequent entry into NATO. Moscow has repeatedly threatened the repercussions of its joining the Western military alliance. The Russians are also not happy with the defense deal being implemented between Finland and the United States. The Finnish Defense Minister described the redirection of migrants as a form of hybrid warfare waged by Russia.
About the author
Jeroen Visser is the Scandinavia and Finland correspondent De Volkskrant. Lives in Stockholm. He was previously a Southeast Asia correspondent. He is the author of the book North Korea never says sorry.
The deliberate redirection of asylum seekers is nothing new. In 2012, Belarus directed thousands of migrants from Iraq and Afghanistan across the border into Poland. Something similar happened before in Finland as well. In January 2016, old Ladas containing more than a thousand asylum seekers suddenly appeared at the border crossing in Sala, a thousand kilometers north of Helsinki. After diplomatic consultations, this phenomenon stopped as suddenly as it began.
Steel fences and border closures
The 2016 incident led Finland to make plans to build a steel border fence at its busiest border crossings, with the main goal of combating illegal immigration. Construction of this border fence began this year. Parliament also introduced a change in the law that allows Finnish authorities to temporarily stop accepting asylum applications if there is a coordinated influx of migrants.
Last week, border police imposed a ban on crossing the border by bicycle after dozens of migrants entered this way. Now the Finnish government is considering closing some border crossings completely. “I do not see that the migrant movement will end with anything other than a very clear action on our part,” President Sauli Niinistö said on Wednesday.
The conservative Liberal government that took power this year has made reducing the number of asylum seekers the spearhead. It is also a priority of far-right coalition partner the Finns. The Finnish president also issued a stern message on Wednesday. “We want to let people know that Finland is not a land of milk and honey that you can just walk into. We hope this will reduce the movement of migrants,” Niinistö said.
Russia said on Wednesday that it regretted Finland’s response. A Kremlin spokesman said: “It is unfortunate that Finnish leaders have chosen to bid farewell to previously good bilateral relations.”
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