BBC: Russia recruiting migrants near Finnish border to fight in Ukraine

Finland closed its border with Russia in November after a concerted effort by Russia to send asylum seekers to the border. (Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva)

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has reported that Russian authorities are allegedly enticing migrants seeking to enter Finland with expired visas to stay in Russia, only to later deploy them to the conflict in Ukraine.

The BBC’s report outlines how migrants have unknowingly signed Russian-language contracts with terms they do not understand. The contracts stipulate that the signatory must work for Russia for a year, after which they would have the right to remain in the country.

In practical terms, the “work” involves fighting on the front lines in Ukraine, as reported by the BBC’s Russian-language unit.

The network interviewed a Somali man who claimed to have signed such a contract. He revealed that in his group, there were five other Somalis, five Arabs, and one Cuban national.

Human rights activists say they have also received reports that migrants heading to Finland are being recruited into the Russian army.

The Somali man interviewed by the BBC recalled one case of an individual from Iraq who was detained by Russia after his visa expired. Allegedly, the Iraqi man’s choice was to either become a mercenary for Russia or return to Iraq to face a death sentence.

The Iraqi man’s decision remains unknown.

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Migrants taken to military camps near Ukraine

According to the Somali man interviewed by the BBC, Russian police arrested him in November in Lakhdenpokhya, near the Finnish border. He then spent five days in pre-trial detention, where he was pressured into signing an agreement with Russian authorities.

Those who signed the agreement were later taken to a military camp near the Ukrainian border, he added. The men were informed that their contracts would last for a year, further promising them good training, a salary, and comprehensive healthcare.

“However, we were not told anything about Ukraine and the war. It was all a lie,” the man told the BBC.

He added that the migrants arrived at the camp on November 27. The very next day, they refused to comply with the signed contracts, and this led to the Russians attempting to coerce the migrants with subpar and meagre food and the threat of a ten-year prison sentence.

On 4 December, he said he was informed that his contract would be terminated, and he would be returned to pre-trial detention. A similar message was delivered to four other migrants who arrived at the camp with him, he noted. The fate of seven other migrants remains unknown.

Foreign mercenaries not new

The recruitment of foreign mercenaries to Ukraine is not a new phenomenon for Russia. In the early stages of the war, Russia faced criticism for recruiting Syrian mercenaries to fight in Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities have reported the deaths and detainments of individuals from a number of different countries fighting on the Russian side in the war. According to the BBC, Ukrainian officials have identified mercenaries from Nepal, Zambia, Iraq, Estonia, Tajikistan, and Somalia.

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