Asylum Seekers: Finland may shut entire Russian border, foreign minister says




HELSINKI: Finland is considering closing some of the four remaining crossing points on its frontier with Russia or even the whole border if a flow of asylum seekers from its neighbour continues, Finnish foreign minister Elina Valtonen told Reuters on Wednesday.
In November, more than 600 people without valid travel documents to the European Union have come to Finland via Russia, prompting Helsinki to shut several crossings and accuse Moscow of funnelling migrants.The Kremlin denies the charge.
The asylum seekers come from a wide range of nations including Yemen, Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, according to immigration authorities.
“We have already taken measures to close border crossing points, and if need be, we will be doing further closings,” Valtonen said in an interview, adding that closing the entire border was one option the government was currently discussing.
An announcement on border restrictions will be made at 1700 GMT, the government later said.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Russia will “of course” respond if Finland closes the remaining border posts between the two countries.
Zakharova did not say what Moscow’s reaction would be. Her comments were made before the Reuters interview with Valtonen.
Finland’s reception of asylum applications could be moved to a location away from the land border, Valtonen said, but added her country would still adhere to its international obligations and ensure asylum could be sought by “people in true need”.
Finland joined the Nato military alliance earlier this year in response to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, and had already passed laws to strengthen security on the Russian border last year, fearing Russia’s retaliation to its membership would come in the form of orchestrated migration.
The new laws were crafted to enable blocking the 1,340-km (830-mile) frontier and make it possible for the government to direct asylum applications to just one or several border crossings, such as an airport in exceptional circumstances.
Finland has asked the EU’s border Agency Frontex for help in managing the situation, EU commissioner Ylva Johansson said in a speech on Monday.
“Finland has now requested additional operational support from Frontex of up to 60 standing corps officers in the coming weeks,” she said.
Valtonen confirmed observations by the Finnish border guards and said Finnish decision-makers had additional evidence that the Russian border service was transporting the migrants to the border but declined to reveal her sources.
She noted that temperatures in the north were currently dropping to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4°F), making the crossings perilous if migrants did not have sufficient clothing.
“It is even dangerous and life threatening to use such means that Russia is now using,” she said.
Valtonen said Finland had tried discussing the matter with Russia but Moscow had so far declined to engage in dialogue.
On Wednesday, 51 migrants arrived from Russia to apply for asylum at the Salla border crossing and at least 11 at Vartius in Northern Finland, the Border Guard said.


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