Finland preparing further shutdowns on northern part of eastern border

A group of about 20 asylum seekers arrived at the Salla border checkpoint in Finnish Lapland on Tuesday afternoon. (Sari Pöyhönen / Yle)

Although there is no clear timetable on when the government may announce the decision, Yle understands that as of Tuesday afternoon the cabinet had not yet met to discuss the issue.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo‘s (NCP) government is making preparations to close four more checkpoints on Finland’s border with Russia, according to Yle’s sources.

“We are preparing. It has to be done carefully, but I expect these proposals to be on the table fairly quickly,” Orpo told reporters as he arrived at parliament buildings on Tuesday.

The move would mean the entire eastern border would be completely shut, following the decision to close four crossing points in the southeast of the country last week.

Orpo was unable however to give a clear indication of whether the announcement would come on Tuesday or Wednesday, but Yle understands that as of Tuesday afternoon the cabinet has yet to meet to discuss the issue.

“Everything is possible. Let’s see how we proceed,” he said.

The situation as of Tuesday afternoon, with four checkpoints in the southeast of Finland closed. (Laura Merikalla / Yle and Nanna Särkkä / Yle)

In addition, the Chancellor of Justice will need to consider the constitutional consequences of such a move before the government can make the final call.

Finland’s decision to close the four southeastern checkpoints last week was prompted by suspicions that Russian authorities had been funneling asylum seekers to the Finnish border as part of a so-called ‘hybrid operation‘, aimed at sowing discord within Finnish society.

The closure led to the flow of migrants turning northwards, with the processing of asylum applications now being centralised at the Vartius and Salla border checkpoints.

When announcing the initial closures last Thursday, Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (Finns) noted that the government was ready to close the entire eastern border if necessary.

This option was reiterated by Deputy PM Riikka Purra (Finns) later that day and again by PM Orpo when he spoke to journalists at an eastern border checkpoint on Monday.

Niinistö calls leader meeting

Finnish news agency STT reported on Tuesday afternoon that President Sauli Niinistö has called the party leaders to a meeting on Wednesday.

According to Finnish media reports, the meeting is being convened to discuss foreign and security policy issues.

Asylum seekers continuing to arrive

Earlier on Tuesday, about 41 asylum seekers arrived in two batches at the Salla border checkpoint in Finnish Lapland.

The first group, of about 20, arrived on bicycles just before midday. The second arrived a few hours later, also on bicycles.

According to an Yle journalist at the scene, this first group was mostly made up of young men but there were some women and children among the arrivals too.

Hans-Michael Gros of the Finnish Border Guard told Yle that some members of the group were visibly very cold and not suitably dressed for the conditions of -20 degrees Celsius.

“This shows the harsh politics Russia is using here. These people are victims who are being pushed to the Finnish border, and a conscious decision has been made to not allow them back to Russia,” PM Orpo said when asked about the latest arrivals.

The groups arriving at the Salla checkpoint were mostly made up of nationals from Syria, Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Yemen and Somalia.

Meanwhile, further south at the Vartius checkpoint, Finnish border authorities said that 10 asylum seekers had arrived at the crossing by Tuesday afternoon.

Head of the Vartius border checkpoint, Jouko Kinnunen, told Yle that these arrivals were also insufficiently dressed for the freezing weather conditions.

“They have now been taken to safety and offered warmth and treatment,” Kinnunen said.

Related stories from around the North :

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

Yle News

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