Finland’s decision to reopen a small portion of its border with Russia was short-lived. Within hours of reopening, Finnish authorities announced a plan to shut it down again. Interior Minister Mari Rantanen stated at a news conference, “Illegal entry on the Finnish border has immediately resumed. We must close the eastern border.” This action comes in response to the arrival of dozens of migrants, a move seen as Moscow’s retaliation against Finland for increasing defense cooperation with the U.S. and joining NATO.
Background of the Conflict
The tension along the 830-mile Finland-Russia border escalated following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and Finland’s subsequent NATO membership. Initially, Finland accused Russia of facilitating the passage of hundreds of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East to destabilize the country. Finnish authorities expressed concerns over the strain on their reception facilities and the potential risks of criminal or radicalized individuals entering the country. Russian officials have denied these allegations.
Public Opinion and Government Response
- Polls in Finland showed widespread support for the border closures, though some left-wing opposition politicians criticized the government for not fulfilling its international protection obligations.
- Finland had sealed all land crossings for travelers at the end of November, citing security concerns.
- Frontex, the European Union’s border agency, was deployed to assist with security, underscoring the collective European concern over the situation.
Details of the Border Closure
- The border closure, effective from Friday evening, is set to last until January 14.
- During the brief reopening, approximately 36 people crossed from Russia seeking asylum.
- In November, around 900 asylum seekers from countries like Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen entered Finland from Russia, marking a significant increase from the previous average.
Human Rights Concerns
The Council of Europe expressed concern about the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants due to the temporary border closure. They urged Finland to ensure that seeking protection remained possible. Rantanen, representing the anti-immigration Finns party, assured that there were no human rights concerns as asylum could still be sought at other entry points.
Recent Border Closure and Future Implications
The Finnish government’s decision to close the border again was a reaction to the immediate influx of asylum seekers after reopening two crossing points, Vaalimaa and Niirala. Interior Minister Rantanen noted, “The phenomenon accelerated faster than thought,” highlighting the government’s apprehension about the situation.
International Relations and Security Concerns
- Finland’s closure of its border with Russia underscores the growing tensions in international relations, especially in the context of Russia’s foreign policy moves and Finland’s NATO membership.
- The situation reflects a broader European security concern, with countries like Poland and the Baltic states also accusing Belarus of similar tactics in the past.
The Finnish government’s decision could have broader implications for EU-Russian relations. It reflects the growing concerns among EU nations about Russia’s tactics in the region, particularly using migration as a geopolitical tool. This situation might prompt other EU countries to reevaluate their border policies and security measures, especially those sharing borders with Russia and Belarus.
Despite the strict border controls, Finland remains committed to upholding international law and human rights. The Finnish government assures that legitimate asylum seekers will still have avenues to seek protection, albeit through different channels. This balance between national security and humanitarian obligations is a delicate one, and Finland is navigating it with careful consideration of both domestic and international responsibilities.
As the situation develops, the Finnish government remains vigilant. The temporary closure of the border is seen as a necessary measure to control the situation and reassess security protocols. This move also sends a clear message to Russia and the international community about Finland’s stance on unauthorized border crossings and its commitment to national and European security. Check out Al-Jazeera’s coverage on the topic here.