• Thursday, 18 April 2024

Finland-Russia border spat: Asylum seekers head to northern crossings

Finland-Russia border spat: Asylum seekers head to northern crossings

Copenhagen, 20 November 2023 (dpa/MIA) - Finland's closure of four border crossings with Russia has shifted asylum seekers to much more northern routes, officials said, prompting calls for more drastic steps to tackle the spike in migrants.


Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo threatened to take additional steps and did not rule out the closure of further border crossings.


"We are preparing sufficiently strong measures and are ready to take them quickly," he said at the Vartius border crossing on Monday.


According to the border guard, 16 people applied for asylum there on Monday - the same number as on Sunday. There had been 67 on Saturday.


No more asylum seekers arrived at crossings in the south-east on Sunday and Monday.


The closures prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow to summon the Finnish ambassador, describing the closures as "provocative." They would further strain the already tense relations, the ministry said.


Early on Saturday, the Finnish Border Guard shut the Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala border posts in south-east Finland, which are often used by people travelling from St Petersburg.


EU member Finland, which recently joined NATO, accuses Russia of channelling hundreds of migrants, most from the Middle East, to the crossings.


Asylum applications can now only be made in Vartius, hundreds of kilometres away from Niirala, and in Salla, even farther north in Finland.


The head of the Vartius border post, Jouko Kinnunen, told the STT news agency that Russians were actively working to bring asylum seekers through the crossing.


"They are pushing people to the border and closing the border gates behind them," he said.


His impression was that some of the people did not want to enter Finland. Furthermore, Kinnunen said some did not even apply for asylum.


The chairman of the defence committee in the Finnish parliament, Jukka Kopra, accused Russia of exploiting immigration and said the eastern border with Russia may need to be closed completely.


The Kremlin denies Russia is funnelling undocumented migrants towards Finland.


Photo: EPA