The arrival this month of 900 Somalis, Syrians, Yemenis and Iraqis, all notionally asylum seekers, on bicycles and on foot, ill-dressed for the Arctic climes, at the frozen northernmost of Finland’s border posts with Russia, was the last straw. Helsinki last week announced that it would close the entire 1,340km land border.
Raja-Jooseppi in the far north was the last post to close and earlier Finland closed its seven other checkpoints, with Russia telling asylum seekers they could apply for entry only at airports. Estonia, Latvia, other EU states with land borders with Russia, are closely watching developments.
The Finns accuse Moscow of deliberately orchestrating the surge in asylum seekers in collaboration with people smugglers, a form of “hybrid warfare”,and playing politics with migrants whose often paperless travel to the far north it has facilitated, much as Belarus, Russia’s closest ally, did on the Polish border two years ago. The influx, Helsinki says, is destabilising and a threat to national security – the Russians may even be smuggling soldiers into the EU, some Finnish politicians have claimed.
Moscow’s motive , many suggest, is simply trouble-making for its own sake, the long-promised, unspecified retaliation for Finland’s “unfriendly” decision in April in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to abandon its last vestige of neutrality and join Nato. Sweden, whose Nato membership is set to be cleared by Turkey shortly, may expect more of the same.
Refugee groups and Finland’s non-discrimination ombudsman have, with some justification, criticised the government’s border crossing closures, saying it could seriously endanger the fundamental right to seek asylum.
However, Frontex, the EU’s border and coast guard agency, said last week that it would deploy 50 officers and other staff along with equipment, to bolster security at the Finnish crossings, part of the EU’s visa-free Schengen zone. It called the security of Finland’s eastern border “a matter of collective European concern”.