Finland scrambles closes new route for migrants via Russia to Europe

HOILOLA (Finland) (Reuters) – Only the buzzing of mosquitoes marries the tranquility in this idyllic spot, nestled among the rolling forests, blue lakes and sand dunes of eastern Finland. This is the longest border between the European Union and Russia.

The Finnish authorities are concerned that the tranquility of Hoilola will be disturbed by large numbers of asylum-seekers, as part of a hybrid war being waged against the West by Russia.

Finland has increased border patrols with drones, electronic detectors and fences. Before its summer break, the Helsinki parliament is expected approve a new tough legislation critics claim will violate Finland’s commitment to human rights.

Finland closed all border crossings along its 1,340 km (833 miles) border with Russia at the end of last year. Around 1,300 migrants, including those from Syria and Somalia, had crossed that route.

Helsinki is convinced that the Kremlin will continue to send migrants into Finland at any moment. Moscow strongly denies this.

According to the proposed new legislation, Finnish borderguards will be able call upon thousands of reservists for help in patrolling the frontier. They can also detect the phone signals of migrants, send them to detention centers, and, most controversially, push them back to Russia without accepting their applications for asylum.

“Finland can’t just allow (such a new route) for migrants into Europe”, Mari Rantanen of the nationalist Finns Party told Reuters.

Rantanen said, “But in general this is not a migration route. It is about the situation where authorities from another country help or even press and push migrants towards Finland’s borders.”

The once cordial relations between Finland and Moscow have been deteriorating since Finland decided to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion into Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Two friends

The story of two Syrian friends, Mohammed, 25, & Mahmoud 27 is an example of the challenges that Finnish authorities are currently facing.

The cyclists entered Finland through the Salla crossing in November last year after they rode their bicycles, which they claimed they bought from Russian middlemen for $350 per bike at the last Russian border checkpoint. It is illegal to walk between the Russian border station and the Finnish border station.

Mohammed, who fled to Egypt first to avoid the Syrian draft, and then paid $2,500 to get a student visa in Russia, claimed he entered Finland “completely legal”.

“I entered the Russian border checkpoint legally, and they gave me a stamp of exit. “I showed the exit stamp in Finland and they let me right in,” he said to Reuters. He added that he then requested asylum on the Finnish side.

Mohammed and Mahmoud claimed that they paid $5,000 to a Syrian smuggler in order to travel to Germany via Belarus, but were beaten and then sent back by Polish and Lithuanian Border Guards. Poland and the Baltic States have accused Belarus – a Moscow ally – of funneling migrants towards their shared border from 2021. This accusation is similar to Finland’s against Russia.

“Suddenly, there was news about the opening of the Finnish border with Russia. Mahmoud remembered that it was also advertised on Telegram, and smugglers were already advertising their services to send people into Finland.

The Syrian friends still await a decision by the Finnish authorities regarding their asylum application.

Samuli Murtonen, the deputy commander, said that despite the increasing tensions between Finland and Russia, Finnish border guards continue to meet regularly with their Russian counterparts. He was making sure that his German Shepherd patrol dog didn’t cross the 10-metre-high (32-feet) forest clearing on the Russian side.

He told Reuters that the Russian border guards would not allow anyone to cross the border without a valid EU visa.

‘PROVOCATION’

Finland has been accused by Russia of creating the situation at the border, inviting migrants themselves.

Vladimir Kulishov (FSB), the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) border services, said to the state-run RIA News Agency on May 28, “We think that deliberately provocation of a migration crisis’ along the Russian-Finnish border is needed for the Finnish authorities in order to implement plans by NATO and the United States, to deploy military infrastructure and foreign troops on Finnish territory, including areas bordering Russia.”

Rantanen dismissed this assertion as absurd. She did not provide any evidence to support her claim from February, which she maintained was valid, that there were thousands of migrants waiting at the border for Finland.

The minister has admitted that the temporary legislation proposed to send migrants back to Russia would violate Finland’s international commitments on human rights.

Amnesty International stated on Monday that the plans could undermine access to asylum, and “could serve as a greenlight for violence and pushbacks along the border”.

Mahmoud said that he was certain that the Russian border authorities controlled their departure to Finland and only allowed a small number of migrants to pass through at one time.

“If Russia wants Finland to be drowned by refugees, then it can.” He said that it could send tens or thousands of refugees.

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