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Dozens of migrants wait at Finland-Russia border after Helsinki blocks crossings

Published Nov 17, 2023 22:03 Updated Nov 19, 2023 16:01
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3/3 © Reuters. Finish border guards wait at the Nuijamaa border checkpoint in Finland, November 17, 2023. REUTERS/Attila Cser 2/3

By Anne Kauranen

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Dozens of migrants stood behind barriers at two crossings on Finland's border with Russia on Saturday, the Finnish Border Guard said, after Helsinki erected barricades to halt a flow of asylum seekers it says was instigated by Moscow.

The Finnish government has accused Russia of funnelling migrants to the crossings in retaliation for its decision to increase defence cooperation with the United States, an assertion dismissed by the Kremlin.

The Finnish Border Guard erected barriers from midnight on Friday at the Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala border posts in southeast Finland, which account for most of the traffic between the two countries.

Despite the closure, dozens of migrants arrived on Saturday afternoon at the Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa crossings, and lit a campfire in sub-zero temperatures behind razor-wire barriers mounted by border guards, Finnish Border Guard told reporters.

In Nuijamaa, two people managed to breach the barriers and enter Finland, it added.

"We are currently improving the barriers so that something similar will no longer be possible," Colonel Mika Rytkonen said, according to Finland's public broadcaster YLE.

Finland shares a 1,340-km (830-mile) border with Russia that also serves as the EU's external border. Some 300 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, have arrived in Finland this week, according to the Border Guard.

Four regular border crossings remain open for the time being, but asylum can now only be sought at two of those, in Salla and Vartius, further north, the Border Guard said.

On Saturday, 67 people arrived to seek asylum at the Vartius post, the local border guard unit said on X, formerly known as Twitter. A group of migrants arrived half an hour past the station's closing time, local media reported.

"In this situation we had to let these people into Finland because Russia would not take them back," head of the Vartius station, Captain Jouko Kinnunen, told Finnish channel MTV.

The Kremlin on Friday said Finland was making a "big mistake" by closing down border crossings and that Helsinki's move was destroying bilateral relations.

In 2021, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia accused Moscow's close ally Belarus of artificially creating a migrant crisis on their borders by flying in people from the Middle East and Africa and attempting to push them across the frontier - an accusation Belarus repeatedly denied.

European Union border agency Frontex on Friday told Reuters it would send officers to Finland to help safeguard the frontier.

Finance Minister Riikka Purra of the anti-immigration Finns Party on Thursday said Finland was ready to close all crossing points on the Russian border if necessary.

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

Dozens of migrants wait at Finland-Russia border after Helsinki blocks crossings
 

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