THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) has decided to close parts of the eastern border in response to an increase in asylum applicants.
The government announced yesterday it will close the border-crossing points in Imatra, Niirala, Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa as of Saturday, 18 November 2023. The closures mean applications for international protection will only be accepted at the more northern border-crossing points of Salla and Vartius.
The decision will remain in force until 18 February 2024.
Orpo stated in a press release that the government decided to act decisively and swiftly in order to prevent the escalation of the border situation, utilising powers introduced to the border guard act during the previous parliamentary term “precisely” in anticipation of situations such as the current one.
Section 16 of the border guard act enables the government to close border-crossing points on a fixed-term or indefinite basis in order to prevent a serious threat to public order, national security or public health.
“These tools have now been used,” said Orpo.
The government reminded in the press release that there are indications that foreign authorities or other actors have had a role in facilitating illegal entry into Finland.
The Finnish Border Guard has reported of rising number of asylum applicants at the eastern border. Between Monday and Wednesday, for example, the total number of asylum applicants arriving at the border stood at 147, accounting for more than half of the total since the last day of July.
YLE on Thursday revealed that 26 asylum seekers arrived the four border-crossing points to be closed by 11.53pm on Thursday. Another 18 had arrived at the border-crossing point in Vartius.
“The closing of border-crossing points at the eastern border will stop illegal entry into Finland. The government is prepared to take even stronger measures if necessary,” added Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS).
Also Finnish citizens are required to use open border-crossing points.
Helsingin Sanomat on Thursday reported that opposition parties are supportive of the decision to close the border-crossing points with some minor reservations.
Antti Lindtman, the chairperson of the Social Democrats, stated to STT that it appears clear that the recent increase in asylum applicants is a consequence of a hybrid campaign. “That’s why Finland shouldn’t give up in the face of such pressure but act decisively and react swiftly,” he commented to the news agency.
Annika Saarikko, the chairperson of the Centre, stressed that despite attempts to steer the public’s attention to underwater gas pipelines and asylum seekers at the eastern border, the most serious and condemnable situation is still Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
“We have to be careful not to take our eye off the [war] and make sure our support is unwavering even if we’re faced with influence attempts,” she remarked.
Chairpersons Li Andersson of the Left Alliance and Sofia Virta of the Green League reminded Helsingin Sanomat that while Finland has an obligation to monitor its own borders, it also has the obligation to make sure the right to apply for asylum is realised.
Andersson added to Helsingin Sanomat that Finland has been well aware of the possibility that asylum seekers can be used as part of a hybrid campaign. Finnish authorities, she underlined, also have the opportunity to increase their readiness and ramp up their capacity to process asylum applications at a faster-than-usual rate.
“It can’t be that the system ends up in crisis because that’s exactly what the hybrid campaign is seeking to accomplish,” she said.
“It’s now crucial to keep a cool head and make sure that Russia doesn’t succeed in creating the chaos and confusion it’s hoping to create,” Virta echoed in a message to Helsingin Sanomat.
Aleksi Teivainen – HT