EU deploys border agents to Finland amid increase in asylum seeker arrivals

Finland has accused Russia of pushing asylum seekers to its eastern border, which Russia denies.

Asylum seekers arrive with bicycles at the international border crossing at Salla, northern Finland, November 23, 2023 [Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via Reuters]

The European Union’s border protection agency, Frontex, is set to deploy 50 officers to Finland after an increase in asylum seeker arrivals at its eastern border with Russia.

Frontex said on Thursday that in addition to border guard officers and other staff, the agency would send equipment such as patrol cars “to bolster Finland’s border control activities”.

The reinforcement is expected to be on the ground “as soon as next week”, it said in a statement.

Finland on Wednesday said it would shut all but its northernmost border crossing with Russia after it recorded an increase in arrivals of undocumented migrants.

Helsinki said Moscow was to blame, with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo accusing the Russian authorities of “a systematic and organised action” of facilitating the entry of the migrants.

“Undoubtedly Russia is instrumentalising migrants” as part of its “hybrid warfare” against Finland, Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said on Wednesday.

Finland joined NATO in April after decades of military non-alignment and pragmatic friendly relations with Moscow. Its 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia serves as the EU’s external border and makes up NATO’s northeastern flank.

Moscow has denied it is funnelling desperate asylum seekers to the Finnish border.

More than 600 asylum seekers have entered Finland via Russia in November, compared with only a few dozen in September and October.

They were mostly from countries including Yemen, Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, according to border officials. Most were young men in their 20s, but some were families with children, border guard data and photos from news outlets showed.

Stopping short of naming Russia, Frontex head Hans Leijtens said in a statement that the agency was bolstering support to Finland as it was facing “hybrid challenges”.

“This collaboration shows that when facing complex border issues, Europe stands united, offering support through tangible actions,” Leijtens added.

Frontex currently has 10 officers working at the borders of Finland.

In 2021, 3,000 to 4,000 asylum seekers became stranded in a no-man’s land on the border between Poland and Belarus as Warsaw deployed security forces to stop people from entering amid freezing winter temperatures.

Lithuania and Latvia also reported sharp increases in the number of people trying to cross their borders at the time.

The EU and Warsaw said Minsk was deliberately enticing migrants and refugees to Belarus and then pushing them westwards with promises of easy entry into the bloc, and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of masterminding the crisis.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies