Monday, May 20, 2024

Finland closes four borders with Russia, accuses Moscow of orchestrating migrant flows

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HELSINKI (AP) – Finland’s government says it will close four checkpoints on its long border with Russia to stem the influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa, which Russia says have been directed to the border in recent months.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orupo and Interior Minister Mari Rantanen announced that the southeastern border points on the land border between Finland and Russia (Imatra, Nyilala, Nuijamaa and Valimaa), which serve as the European Union’s external border, will be closed at midnight on Friday. announced.

It runs 1,340 kilometers (832 miles), mostly through dense forests in the south, and into the rugged terrain north of the Arctic Circle. There are currently nine crossings, one of which is dedicated to rail travel.

“The operations of the Russian border authorities have changed,” Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told reporters, adding that the four borders would remain closed until February 18.

He arrived in Northern Europe in recent days without proper documentation and was said to have been assisted by Russian authorities in moving to the tightly controlled border area, where he is believed to have been assisted by Russian authorities, mainly from the Middle East and Africa seeking asylum. mentioned dozens of immigrants.

This marks a major change, as border authorities in Finland and Russia have worked together for decades to stop people without the necessary visas or passports before they attempt to enter either country. means.

Finnish authorities announced this week that in recent months Russia has begun allowing illegal travelers to enter border areas and border crossing stations where they can apply for asylum in Finland.

According to the Finnish Border Guard, migrants have arrived in recent days mainly from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Turkey and Somalia, and Finnish and Russian media reports say almost all of them arrive at the border area on bicycles. It is said that they are doing so.

Most were using Russia only as a transit country to enter Finland or the European Union, officials said.

Border authorities announced Thursday that around 280 third-country migrants have arrived in Finland from Russia since September.

“Russia’s instrumentalization of migration is shameful,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a post on social media platform X. I fully support the measures taken by Finland,” he said, thanking the Finnish border guards “for protecting Europe’s borders.”

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Wednesday linked Russia’s actions to Finland’s entry into NATO in April after decades of military non-alignment, a move that infuriated Moscow and repeatedly threatened Helsinki. threatened with retaliatory measures.

He said Finland, which joined the Western military alliance after Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022, needed to prepare for “some kind of malicious intent” from Russia.

“Yes, we are constantly reminded (by Moscow) that Finland has joined NATO,” Niinistö told reporters during a visit to Germany.

Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced last month that the country of 5.6 million people had signed a new bilateral defense agreement with the United States. Among other things, the so-called DCA agreement allows Washington to deploy U.S. troops and store equipment, weapons, and ammunition at agreed locations in Finland.

Asked on Wednesday about Finland considering closing border crossings, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian authorities were “taking a deliberate step toward distancing the Finnish leadership from hitherto good relations”. I deeply regret that choice.”

Neighboring Norway, which has a 120-mile (198-kilometre) border with Russia in the Arctic Circle, said it had so far not recorded such an increase in border traffic from Russia at its only border point, Storskog. .

“We are closely monitoring the situation and, if necessary, it may be appropriate to close the border abruptly,” Justice Minister Emily Enger Mehr told Norwegian news agency NTB.

Meanwhile, authorities in Estonia, Russia’s Baltic neighbor and NATO and EU member, announced on Thursday that eight Somali migrants attempted to enter the country from Russia without proper documentation in the border city of Narva.

Estonia’s Interior Minister Lauri Ränemetz said the migrants were likely assisted by Russian authorities who transported them to the border area.

“It is difficult to imagine that these Somali nationals came up with all these (ideas) on their own. Without proper rights, they cannot cross the Russian border,” he said, adding that African migrants could be induced to return to Russian territory. he added.

Estonia’s Police and Border Guard Board announced late Thursday that it stands ready to close all border crossings between Estonia and Russia if necessary.


Associated Press writers Daria Litvinova in Tallinn, Estonia and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.


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