Finland re-opening two border checkpoints, Lapland crossings stay closed

Finland’s Prime Minister Petteri Orpo gives a press conference regarding the country’s border restrictions, in Helsinki, Finland on December 12, 2023. (Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva /AFP via Getty Images)

The Finnish government closed the entire eastern border nearly two weeks ago in response to a suspected Russian hybrid attack involving increasing numbers of undocumented migrants arriving at Finnish checkpoints.

Finland will re-open two checkpoints on its eastern border with Russia from Thursday 14 December, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) announced on Tuesday.

The two checkpoints to re-open are located at Vaalimaa, in the southeast of the country, and at Niirala, in North Karelia. The remaining six crossing points along the Finnish-Russian frontier will remain closed.

In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon announcing the government’s decision, Orpo emphasised that the government would reassess the situation if Russia relaunched its hybrid influencing tactics.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen (Finns) told the press conference that this decision would remain in effect until 14 January, and reiterated that the government would act quickly if suspicions arise again that Russia is instrumentalising migrant movements to put pressure on Finnish authorities.

Finland shut down the eastern border last month in response to a suspected hybrid attack that involved Russia allowing — or assisting — undocumented migrants to approach the Finnish border. The situation, which started last summer, brought a total of around 1,000 asylum seekers to the border.

Finland’s Interior Minister Mari Rantanen at the Tuesday press conference announcing the two border crossing reopenings. (Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva /AFP via Getty Images)

With the exception of the rail crossing point in Vainikkala, all eastern border points were closed for two weeks on 30 November and the processing of asylum applications was shifted to airports and harbours. The closure order expires at midnight on Wednesday.

According to the Finnish Border Guard, the eastern border has been calm for the past two weeks and no asylum seekers had approached Finnish crossing points.

However, media reports suggest that there are a number of citizens of third countries on the Russian side waiting for the Finnish border to open.

During the border closure, Interior Minister Rantanen received a letter from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic, criticising the situation.

Mijatovic said she was concerned about the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants affected by the situation — while acknowledging that the closure was prompted by Russia’s “instrumentalisation of migration movements”.

Speaking to Parliament earlier this week, Minister Rantanen said Finland needs to consider its national security, noting that asylum applications were still being processed, just not at the eastern border.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: U.S. report claims Trudeau told NATO Canada will never meet military spending target, CBC News

Finland: With northern focus, Finland applies EU funding to improve military mobility, The Independent Barents Observer

Norway: British & Norwegian F-35s scrambled in North to intercept Russian military plane, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Putin beefs up naval nuclear arsenal, promises more subs, The Independent Barents Observer

United Kingdom: UK urged to bolster Arctic defense as grey-zone threats rise: report, Eye on the Arctic

United States: First U.S. deep water port for the Arctic to host cruise ships, military, The Associated Press

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