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Monday, December 4, 2023

Finnish-Russian border: asylum seekers on bicycles

Because Russia is allowing around three hundred refugees through, Finland is closing four border crossings. Russian-Finnish families protest in Helsinki.

Several semi-trailers can be seen behind a barrier

Finnish military vehicles set up a barrier at the Kuhmo border crossing Photo: Lehtikuva/Miska Puumala via reuters

STOCKHOLM taz | Three border guards pull a man to the ground and hold him. A dozen other officers block the path of a group of refugees. Tear gas is used. The Finnish television YLE showed scenes like this on Friday evening from the Finnish-Russian border crossing at Niiralan.

On Saturday night, Finland closed Niirala and three other border stations with Russia for three months. “We want this phenomenon to stop,” reasoned Prime Minister Petteri Orpo the step. The “phenomenon”: A growing number of asylum seekers who came to Finland via these crossing points – on bicycles because the border can only be crossed by vehicles.

Finland accuses Russia of changing its previous practice of denying passage to travelers without sufficient documents. Orpo says: “This is organized.” Moscow rejected the accusation on Friday, but had actually announced on October 21 that it would end border cooperation with Finland. The Finnish Ministry of the Interior puts the number of asylum seekers who have crossed the border since then at around 300 people.

The border closure bears the hallmarks of right-wing populism True Finns, which includes Interior Minister Marin Rantanen. In parliament, she praised her party’s central role in amending the border surveillance law, which makes border closures possible if the actions of another state pose a serious threat to Finland’s security. That is what is being claimed now.

Refugees not from Russia

However, discrimination ombudsman Kristina Stenman warns that Finland runs the risk of reacting disproportionately. The majority of refugees who have come from Russia so far have come from countries such as Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Two border stations in northern Finland remain officially open to asylum applications. However, these are around 1,000 kilometers further north. Orpo and Rantanen did not want to respond to MPs’ questions about how Finland planned to react if refugees soon freeze to death in the border forests.

Tens of thousands of Finnish-Russian families live in Finland and can no longer visit relatives directly. On Saturday, hundreds of Russians living in Finland protested in Helsinki. The demonstrator Nataliia Eliakina asks: “Why don’t we at least allow bus traffic?” All travel documents are checked there.

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