Sun, 03 Dec 2023

Finland Blocks Border Crossings to Stop Migrants Sent by Russia

Voice of America
18 Nov 2023, 04:05 GMT+10

HELSINKI - Finland will erect barriers at four crossings on its border with Russia, officials said Friday, in a bid to stem an increase in migrants that Helsinki says has been orchestrated by Moscow.

Finland has accused Russian authorities of funneling migrants to the crossings in retaliation for its decision to increase defense cooperation with the United States, an assertion dismissed by the Kremlin.

Barriers will go up at four of the nine crossings with Russia, at Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala in its southeast, the Finnish Border Guard said.

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

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Finland was making a 'big mistake' by choosing a path of confrontation with Russia, state news agency TASS reported.

'[One can] only express deep regret that the Finnish authorities have taken the path of destroying bilateral relations,' TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

Some 300 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, have arrived in Finland this week, according to the Border Guard.

Nearly 100 had entered Finland from Russia by midday Friday alone, officials said.

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

Helsinki angered Moscow when it joined the NATO military alliance in April after decades of nonalignment following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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

Finland's ombudsman for nondiscrimination said Thursday Helsinki still has a duty under international treaties and EU law to allow asylum seekers to seek protection.

EU border agency Frontex told Reuters it would send officers to Finland to help safeguard the frontier.

'We ... are preparing to provide immediate assistance through the additional deployment of our standing corps officers,' a Frontex spokesperson said in an email.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen thanked the Finnish authorities Thursday for protecting the bloc's external border. 'Russia's instrumentalization of migrants is shameful,' she said.

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