Finland to block border amid Russian ‘instrumentalisation of migrants’

At midnight ‘devices to prevent entry’ will go up at four of the border crossings between the European neighbours.

Border between Finland and Russia
A view of the pilot border fence at the Finnish-Russian border in Imatra, Finland, on October 26, 2023 [File: Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari/via Reuters]

Finland will place barriers on four of the eight border crossings it shares with Russia, as it seeks to stem a flow of asylum seekers.

The Finnish Border Guard said on Friday that the barriers will go up at midnight (22:00 GMT) at the Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala crossings in southeastern Finland.

“Our aim is to use barrier devices to prevent entry,” the Border Guard’s head of international affairs Matti Pitkaniitty told reporters. The measures are a response to changes in Russia’s border policy, he said.

Helsinki has accused Moscow of encouraging or turning a blind eye to undocumented migrants crossing over. Russia has denied the claim.

Finland announced earlier this week that it would close the four border crossings, which are the busiest points of travel between the two countries, with about 3,000 people crossing per day.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said that amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow was seeking to destabilise his country in response to Helsinki’s decision to join NATO.

Finland’s action was supported by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“Russia’s instrumentalisation of migrants is shameful. I fully support the measures taken by Finland,” von der Leyen said on X.

Finland’s neighbour Norway, which shares a border with Russia in the Arctic, has said it is also ready to close its border at short notice if necessary.

From Saturday, asylum seekers arriving via Russia will only be allowed to hand in their applications at two northern border crossings, at Salla and Vartius, Pitkaniitty said.

The border closures come amid growing tension between Russia and Finland over Helsinki’s military alliances since Russia’s war with Ukraine began.

Finland shares a 1,340km (833-mile) frontier with Russia that also serves as the European Union’s external border.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, EU member Finland abandoned its decades-long policy of military non-alignment. The country joined NATO in April.

Russia said at the time that it would take unspecified “countermeasures” in response.

Finland’s Border Guard has since tracked an uptick in undocumented arrivals, mostly from Africa and the Middle East.

Finland’s ombudsman for non-discrimination said on Thursday that Helsinki still had a duty under international treaties and EU law to allow asylum seekers to seek protection.

Finland is constructing a 200km (124-mile) fence on a section of the border, due to be completed by 2026.

Source: News Agencies