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Finland to close entire border with Russia to stem flow of asylum seekers

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travelers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt a flow of asylum seekers that Helsinki says are being funneled to the border by Russia to sow instability in the Nordic nation.

Finland last week shut all but one of its border crossings to travelers from Russia, keeping open only the Raja-Jooseppi crossing (Lotta on the Russian side) — the northernmost crossing on Finland’s 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, which is also the European Union’s external border.

The Finnish government announced in a statement on November 28 that this crossing will close overnight on November 29, joining all the others in allowing only the transport of goods.

The closures will remain in effect until December 13, the statement said, adding that it will not be possible to submit applications for asylum at any border crossing points on the land border between Finland and Russia.

Finland has seen a recent influx of asylum seekers arriving at its eastern border and blames a change in Russian border protocol that Moscow made subsequent to Finland’s entry into NATO. Moscow denies the charge.

According to the Finnish Border Guard, some 900 asylum seekers entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from less than one per day previously. The countries of origin include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, the Border Guard said.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on November 27 that Finland if necessary would take further measures to stem the flow. He warned Russia again on November 28.

“Russia is enabling the instrumentalization of people and guiding them to the Finnish border in harsh winter conditions. Finland is determined to put an end to this phenomenon,” Orpo said in the statement.

He told reporters that Finland has reason to suspect that “Russia’s influencing operations” are behind the increase in the number of asylum seekers.

“We don’t accept any attempt to undermine our national security. Russia has caused this situation, and it can also stop it,” Orpo said.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in the statement that it is necessary to close the entire eastern border “to protect Finland’s national security against this Russian hybrid operation.”

The government said it concluded that “these are very exceptional circumstances” that require the short-term total closure of the eastern border “to put an end to this phenomenon and to limit the serious consequences that it has for national security and public order.”