Finland to close border with Russia for two weeks

Helsinki accuses Moscow of funnelling asylum seekers to the border in retaliation for its decision to join NATO.

Finland's border with Russia
Border guards and a customs official check a truck at the Raja-Jooseppi international border crossing station in Inari, northern Finland on November 28, 2023 [Lehtikuva/Emmi Korhonen via Reuters]

Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travellers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt the unusually large flow of asylum seekers to the Nordic nation, which the government and its allies say is an orchestrated move by Moscow.

Finland last week shut all but one of its border posts to travellers from Russia, keeping open only the northernmost Raja-Jooseppi crossing located in the Arctic. But this crossing would now close, the government said on Tuesday.

Approximately 900 asylum seekers from nations including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland from Russia this month, an increase from less than one per day previously, according to Finnish authorities.

Helsinki says Moscow is funnelling people to the border in retaliation for its decision to increase defence cooperation with the United States, a charge the Kremlin has denied.

Finland joined NATO earlier this year, ending decades of military non-alignment, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Petteri Orpo
Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said Finland will completely close its eastern border for two weeks [Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen via Reuters]

“This is Russia’s influence operation and we do no accept it,” Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told a news conference.

On Monday, he said his country had intelligence information on Russian authorities assisting the asylum seekers and that despite Finnish border closures, there were still more people heading towards Finland in Russia.

On Monday, three asylum seekers arrived in Finland through the remote Raja-Jooseppi station, the last open border post, and on Tuesday there were no entrants.

The border station will remain open on Wednesday before closing until December 13, the government said.

Finland’s ombudsman for non-discrimination last week said the remote location of Raja-Jooseppi prompted concerns that Helsinki was jeopardising the right to seek asylum.

Asylum seekers will be limited to applying for protection at “open border crossing points for air and maritime traffic”, meaning ports and airports, authorities said.

A railway crossing between Russia and Finland would remain open but for cargo traffic only.

Source: News Agencies