Finland blocks border crossings to stop migrants it says were sent by Russia

HELSINKI, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Finland will erect barriers at four crossings on its border with Russia from midnight, officials said on Friday, in a bid to stem an increase in migrants that Helsinki says has been orchestrated by Moscow.

Finland has accused Russian authorities 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.

Barriers will go up at four of the nine crossings with Russia, at Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala in its southeast, the Finnish Border Guard said.

“Our aim is to use barrier devices to prevent entry,” the Border Guard’s head of international affairs, Matti Pitkaniitty, told reporters. The measures were a response to changes in Russia’s border policy, he added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Finland was making a “big mistake” by choosing a path of confrontation with Russia, state news agency TASS reported.

“(One can) only express deep regret that the Finnish authorities have taken the path of destroying bilateral relations,” TASS quoted Peskov as saying.

Some 300 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, have arrived in Finland this week, according to the Border Guard.

A view of the border between Russia and Finland at the Nuijamaa border checkpoint in Lappeenranta, Finland on November 15, 2023. An increasing number of citizens from third countries have arrived via Russia to Finnish border-crossing points without proper documentation this autumn. Finland has no longer allowed people to enter via… Acquire Licensing Rights Read more

Nearly 100 had entered Finland from Russia by midday on Friday alone, officials said.

Finland shares a 1,340-km (833-mile) border with Russia that also serves as the EU’s external border.

Helsinki angered Moscow when it joined the NATO military alliance in April after decades of non-alignment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

From Saturday asylum seekers arriving via Russia will only be allowed to hand in their applications at two northern border crossings, at Salla and Vartius, Pitkaniitty said.

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

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

“We … are preparing to provide immediate assistance through the additional deployment of our standing corps officers,” a Frontex spokesperson said in an email.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday thanked the Finnish authorities for protecting the bloc’s external border. “Russia’s instrumentalisation of migrants is shameful,” she added.

Reporting by Essi Lehto and Anne Kauranen; additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Moscow bureau; editing by Terje Solsvik, Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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