HELSINKI (AP) — Finland will close four crossing points on its long border with Russia to stem the flow of African and Middle Eastern migrants it accuses Moscow of driving to the border in recent months, the government said Thursday.
Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo and Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said the southeastern border points (Imatra, Niirala, Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa) will close at midnight on Friday on the land border between Finland and Russia that serves as the external border of the European Union.
It travels a total of 1,340 kilometers (832 miles), mainly through thick forests in the south, until reaching the rugged landscape of the Arctic north. There are currently nine crossing points and one is dedicated solely to train travel.
“The operations of the Russian border authorities have changed,” Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told reporters.
He referred to dozens of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, who have arrived in the Nordic nation in recent days without proper documentation and have requested asylum after supposedly having been helped by Russian authorities to travel to the area. tightly controlled border.
This represents a major change as Finnish and Russian border authorities have cooperated for decades to detain people without the necessary visas or passports before they could attempt to enter either country.
Finnish authorities said this week that Russia has in recent months begun allowing undocumented travelers to access the border area and enter crossing stations where they can apply for asylum in Finland.
The Finnish Border Guard says that in recent days migrants have arrived mainly from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Turkey and Somalia, and almost all have arrived in the border area on bicycles that, according to Finnish and Russian media reports, were provided and sold.
Most of them have used Russia only as a transit country to enter Finland and the EU, officials said.
Some 280 migrants from third countries have arrived in Finland from Russia since September, border officials said on Thursday.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Wednesday linked Russia’s actions to Finland’s NATO membership in April after decades of military non-alignment, angering Moscow, which has threatened Helsinki with retaliatory measures on several occasions. .
He noted that Finland must be prepared for “some malice” from Russia due to its decision to join the Western military alliance as a result of Moscow’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022.
“Yes, Moscow constantly reminds us that Finland has joined NATO,” Niinistö told reporters during a visit to Germany.
Finland’s Foreign Ministry announced last month that the country of 5.6 million people has concluded a new bilateral defense agreement with the United States. The so-called DCA pact allows, among other things, Washington to send American troops and store equipment, weapons and ammunition in agreed locations in Finland.
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