In the autumn, the Finnish government closed all eight crossing points it shares with Russia, along a border of almost 1,400 kilometres. They will remain closed until at least mid-April.
The Finnish authorities ordered the closures for “national security” reasons. NGOs condemn the measure, saying it is putting the lives of hundreds of asylum seekers at risk. Our correspondent Julián López travelled to the heart of the affected area to hear people’s different points of view.
Finnish authorities accuse Russia of channelling illegal migrants to the border and assisting them with money, food, accommodation, or transportation in what they call a “hybrid attack” against Finland. Finland recently joined NATO and has vehemently opposed Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia denies the accusations.
“A threat to national security”
Finland claims some 500 illegal migrants crossed its eastern border in November, up from previous monthly averages of around 30 people.
The Finnish government has called these arrivals “a serious threat to national security and public order”.
Many of those illegal migrants are now sheltered in Joutseno, a nearby village, while their asylum requests are examined. The reception centre for asylum seekers is located barely 10 kilometres from the Russian border. About 100 people are currently living here. The authorities did not allow us access to the facility, nor have they been willing to grant us any interviews, however some residents did agree to share their stories.
“It’s so easy to come here”
Nabil, from Morocco, confirmed that “the (Russian) police and army helped us. It is good for us because it is so easy to come here”.
Asylum seekers can´t be expelled while their demands are under examination. This can take up to two years. No pushbacks to Russia appear to have been reported.
We also visited the headquarters of the Finnish Border Guard in Helsinki. Marek Saareks, an Assistant Head of Department there, said that the country’s sea and air borders remain open, but that when it came to its land border with Russia, Finland had few options: “We have information that in the St. Petersburg area there are thousands of persons who might come to Finland using this route,” he claimed.
Finnish NGOs have criticised the measure. Pargol Miraftab, a legal advisor at Amnesty Finland told us: “We do have human rights that belong to every single person. And the government has duties to respect these rights”.
An association of Finnish-Russian dual nationals has even taken legal action.
80% of Finns agree with border closures – polls
Yet recent polls show that up to 80% of Finns agree with the border closure.
Some claim that failure to act would lead to one million illegal migrants arriving here in two years.
Although not part of the government’s programme, and sparked by different reasons, the closure seems to some observers another step towards a tightening of Finland’s migration policy. The government, a coalition led by conservatives and the far-right, has floated plans to halve quotas for asylum seekers and limit their protection, restrict family reunifications, and charter shared repatriation flights with other Nordic countries.
Negotiations are ongoing and no new specific laws have been adopted yet, but observers agree that, like others in Europe, the country is shifting towards a new immigration policy, to the dismay of NGOs.
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