Finland will close its eastern border with Russia, the country’s interior minister has said, just hours after the Nordic nation relaxed a two-week closure of all roads between the two countries.
Helsinki has said a recent rise in asylum seekers arriving via Russia was an orchestrated move by Moscow in retaliation for the Nordic country’s decision to increase defence cooperation with the United States, a charge the Kremlin has denied.
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The arrivals stopped when Finland shut the border in late November, but resumed on Thursday when two of the eight crossings were opened, with some 36 people seeking asylum, the Finnish Border Guard said.
“The phenomenon has started again and we will close the whole border,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen told the country’s parliament.
“This is a sign that the Russian authorities are continuing their hybrid operation against Finland. This is something that Finland will not tolerate,” Rantanen said in a statement.
Finland joined NATO in April after decades of military non-alignment and pragmatic friendly relations with Moscow. Its 1,340km (832-mile) border with Russia serves as the European Union’s external border and makes up NATO’s northeastern flank.
Approximately 900 asylum seekers from nations such as Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from fewer than one per day previously, according to the Border Guard.
Concerns about the rights of asylum seekers
In a letter published on Monday, the Council of Europe said it was “concerned about the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants” following the temporary border closure, and asked Finland to ensure it remained possible to seek protection.
Rantanen, who represents the anti-immigration Finns Party, on Monday told the news agency Reuters there was no cause for human rights concerns, however, as asylum could be sought at other entry points.
“Undoubtedly Russia is instrumentalising migrants” as part of its “hybrid warfare” against Finland, Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said last month.
“At the EU border with Finland, Russian border guards have been letting people through without Schengen visas or EU residence permits. People who are being misled. People who are being used by Russia,” said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.
At the end of November, the European Union’s border protection agency, Frontex, deployed 50 officers to Finland, and said it would send equipment such as patrol cars “to bolster Finland’s border control activities”.
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.
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.