HELSINKI, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Russia must stop sending asylum seekers across its frontier into Finland in what amounts to a “hybrid attack”, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said on Friday, after the Nordic nation temporarily shut all border passenger crossings bar one.
More than 800 migrants from nations including Afghanistan, Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland via Russia in recent weeks, an increase from less than one per day previously, according to the Finnish Border Guard.
Helsinki says Moscow is funnelling them to the border in retaliation for its decision to increase defence cooperation with the United States, a charge the Kremlin denies. Finland infuriated Russia earlier this year when it joined NATO, ending decades of military non-alignment, due to the war in Ukraine.
“We want to send a clear message to Russia: this must stop,” Orpo told a press conference.
“It is not at this moment a question of asylum seekers, it is a question of hybrid attack and national security,” he said.
Having shut four border stations last week, Finland closed three more overnight for a month, leaving open only its northernmost one, Raja-Jooseppi, located in the Arctic region.
Raja-Jooseppi opened its gates for traffic at 0800 GMT on Friday and stayed open for four hours, the Border Guard said.
But Helsinki signalled that this too could be shut.
“If necessary, closing the entire eastern border is possible,” Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said in a statement.
The government also decided at an extraordinary session on Friday that people arriving from Russia without the required travel documents must stay in supervised centres until their identities have been established.
Finland’s ombudsman for non-discrimination said the remote location of Raja-Jooseppi prompted concerns that Helsinki was jeopardising the right to seek asylum.
“If there is no genuine and effective access to the asylum procedure, there is an obvious danger of violating the absolute ban on return and the ban on mass deportation,” the ombudsman’s office said in a post on social media platform X.
The Finnish Border Guard expects dozens of officers from the European Union’s Frontex border agency to help patrol the 1,340 km (833 mile) border with Russia from next week.
“Their task will primarily be to patrol the land border under the supervision of the Finnish Border Guards and to support them,” Border Security Expert Arttu Maaranen told Reuters.
He said the border guards were preparing for all scenarios, including one in which migrants attempted to cross into Finland through forests spanning the frontier.
“We have requested equipment needed for monitoring and surveillance, including a thermal camera vehicle,” he said.
Frontex already has nine border guard officers working in Finland. It said on Thursday it would deploy another 50 border guard officers and other staff to Finland along with equipment such as patrol cars to improve security.
Norway has experienced “no irregularities” so far on its border with Russia, which runs to the north of Finland’s, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Friday during a visit to the Estonian capital Tallinn.
He said Norway was ready to take the necessary measures to have order at the border if the situation changed.
Estonia and Latvia, like Finland, have accused Moscow of sending migrants to their borders with Russia in what all three nations have described as “hybrid attack” operations.
Reporting by Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, additional reporting by Victoria Klesty and Terje Solsvik in Oslo, editing by Anna Ringstrom and Gareth Jones