Russia sends asylum seekers on bicycles over Arctic border to Finland in -22°C

A border guard moves a bicycle of an asylum seeker at the Vartius border station in Kuhmo, Eastern Finland, on November 19, 2023. (Miska Puumala / Lehtikuva/ AFP via Getty Images)

Tensions are increasing as FSB again sends migrants across its northern checkpoint with Europe. A group of 35 asylum seekers came to Salla in Finnish Lapland on Monday. Norway says it is on alert.

“The situation is being investigated,” the Finnish Border Guard said in a short tweet Monday afternoon after a group of 35 migrants suddenly came on bicycles in the extreme cold.

There is currently -22°C at the remote checkpoint east of the town Salla in eastern Lapland.

It is still unclear who transported the asylum seekers to the border on the Russian side, but FSB Border Guards have full control of who are allowed into the border zone.

The nearest town in Russia is Kandalaskha, 167 kilometers from the border, too far for bicycling in winter.

Kandalaksha is south on the Kola Peninsula in the Murmansk region.

In 2016, a migrant froze to death in the same area, as he was waiting for the opening hours on the Russian side of the border.

Friday closures

Finland on Friday closed four of its southern checkpoints to Russia as the number of migrants without valid Schengen-visa had increased over the last weeks. On Sunday, the situation at the Vartius checkpoint became chaotic and the guards on duty decided to close for traffic.

Commander at the checkpoint, Jouko Kinnunen, told Helsingin Sanomat that Russian authorities directed people into the border zone and then closed the gates behind them.

Likely, the people bicycling over to Finland at Salla on Monday are among those too late for the Vartius checkpoint.

At Raja-Jooseppi, the northernmost checkpoint in Lapland, no asylum seekers are reported so far.

Vigilance in Norway 

Norway has Schengen-Europe’s northernmost border with Russia.

“We are monitoring very closely what happens in Finland and what measures are implemented there,” says Chief of Staff with the Police in Finnmark, Tarjei Sirma-Tellefsen to the Barents Observer on Monday afternoon after the Storskog checkpoint closed for the day.

“We cannot go into what emergency measures we are implementing along the border,” Sirma-Tellefsen says.

Chief of staff with the Police in Finnmark, Tarjei Sirma-Tellefsen, says Norway monitors the situation along the border very closely. (Thomas Nilsen/The Independent Barents Observer)

The situation at Storskog is calm, but the police are on alert for possible sudden arrivals of migrants.

Norway’s Minister of Justice, Emilie Enger Mehl, has previously said to the Barents Observer that the “border can be closed in a few hours’ notice.”

In the autumn of 2015, some 5,500 migrants entered Norway at Storskog from Russia.

Related stories from around the North :

Finland: Migrant flow from Russia moves north, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway : Border trouble not on agenda when FSB boss visited Norway, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia : Cabinet postpones meeting on border crossings; Russia ‘deeply regrets’ Finnish moves, Yle News

Sweden : Key NATO commanders teamed up with newcomer Sweden at northern border with Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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