Finland has accused Russia of funnelling asylum seekers to its border and says it will take action against what it says is a jump in the number of arrivals.
The Finnish Border Guard said on Tuesday that the number of arrivals from Russia has soared this week with about 60 asylum seekers coming since early on Monday. That compares with a total of 91 people arriving without required documents from August 1 to November 12.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said the number of crossings at Finland’s southeastern border has risen substantially since August due to what the government suspects is a change in Russia’s border policy and enforcement.
Finnish and Russian border authorities have for years cooperated in stopping people without the necessary visas or passports before they can try to enter either of the two countries.
But Russia has started allowing undocumented travellers to access the border zone and enter crossing stations where they can request asylum in Finland, Rantanen said.
Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said at a press conference that the asylum seekers were being “helped and they are also being escorted or transported to the border by border guards”.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
Finland last year adopted legislation that allows its Border Guard to stop receiving asylum applications at certain crossing points if the Nordic nation became a target of mass immigration orchestrated by another country.
Finland shares a 1,340km (833-mile) border with Russia, which also serves as the European Union’s external border.
‘Hybrid warfare’ claim
Rantanen said she was unable to explain why Moscow’s border policy suddenly changed.
“Maybe [Russian officials] are annoyed by something in Finland`s activities. You have to ask the Russian authorities about that,” she said. “We do hope that Russia changes its policy back as it was before.”
After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Finland ended its longtime neutrality, applied to join NATO and became the military alliance’s 31st member in April.
Finnish Defence Minister Antti Hakkanen accused Russia of deliberately ushering migrants towards the border zone as a type of “hybrid warfare”. Officials in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland have made similar allegations against Russia’s ally Belarus in recent years.
Hakkanen said he would inform NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and the European Union about the situation.
Thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, tried to cross into Finland through its northernmost border crossing with Russia in 2015 and 2016.