| 13 June 2024, Thursday |

Finland blocks border crossings to stop migrants it says were sent by Russia

Officials announced on Friday that Finland would start building barriers at four points along its border with Russia at midnight in an effort to stop the influx of refugees, which Helsinki claims is being coordinated by Moscow.

The Kremlin has denied the accusation made by Finland that Russian authorities are directing migrants to the borders as payback for the country’s choice to strengthen defense ties with the US.

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 added.

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 on Friday alone, officials said.

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

Helsinki angered Moscow when it joined the NATO military alliance in April after decades of non-alignment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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.

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

European Union 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 on Thursday thanked the Finnish authorities for protecting the bloc’s external border. “Russia’s instrumentalisation of migrants is shameful,” she added.

  • Reuters