Prime Minister Petteri Orpo reacted at a news conference in Helsinki on Tuesday, 28 November 2023. Orpo announced the government has decided to close all border-crossing points on the border between Finland and Russia from Thursday, 30 November, until 13 December. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) has announced its decision to close all border-crossing points on the border between Finland and Russia as of Thursday, 30 November.

The decision means that asylum applications can be submitted only at ports and airports but also that no kind of passenger traffic will be allowed at the border-crossing points, Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS) reminded at a press conference on Tuesday.

“No kind of movement across the border will be possible at these border stations,” she stated.

The decision will remain in effect until 13 December. The date of expiry will mark the re-opening of all border-crossing points on the border unless the government later makes a superseding decision on cross-border traffic.

The decision does not apply to rail freight traffic between Finland and Russia.

Raja-Jooseppi, a border-crossing point in Inari, Finnish Lapland, has been the only point on the eastern border that is open to passengers and asylum applicants since Friday, 24 November.

Rantanen argued that the decision to close all crossings is necessary in the current situation to protect against a hybrid influence campaign by Russia. Russian authorities have reportedly helped people without the necessary travel documents to get to the border and, in some cases, closed the border gates after ushering them into the border zone.

Orpo on Tuesday similarly justified the decision by arguing that migrants are still being weaponised as part of a hybrid campaign targeted at Finland by Russia. “We will not tolerate that,” he declared.

The decision to close the only border-crossing point on the border for asylum seekers, he added, was made not because of the volume of cross-border traffic but because of an overall understanding of the situation. Helsingin Sanomat pointed out in its report that the flow of asylum seekers to the eastern border has slowed notably in recent days, with only a few arriving on Monday and none on Tuesday.

The Finnish government sought to close the entire border also last week, but its proposal was blocked by the chancellor of justice over concerns about the right to seek international protection. Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) voiced her exasperation with the ruling in a blog post on Sunday, demanding that the government make a political decision on the closure even if the chancellor of justice fails to recognise the need arising from national security concerns.

“Cabinet members shouldn’t evaluate the actions of their own judicial reviewer,” Orpo was quoted saying about the outburst on Monday by Helsingin Sanomat.

The decision made yesterday has been reviewed by the chancellor of justice, which concluded that there are no judicial obstacles to presenting the decision at a plenary government session.

The government contends in its justification for the decision that the closure does not violate the right to seek international protection because the right should be protected by providing “potential applicants information about the nearest place where they can submit their application,” a memo attached to the decision reads according to Helsingin Sanomat.

Tuomas Ojanen, a professor of administrative law at the University of Helsinki, said to Helsingin Sanomat yesterday that the decision is exceptionally forceful.

“The government’s obligation to justify its necessity and proportionality is highlighted because the right to asylum is a basic and human right. It’s impossible to comment on this because the necessity and proportionality is justified in a memo that’s partly classified,” he noted.

“If this right is under threat, there’s a risk of violating the principle of non-refoulement and prohibition of collective expulsion, which are absolute in all circumstances.”

Although the government is set to close the entire eastern border, it states in the memo that there should be an effort to identify people in particularly vulnerable positions, such as children, the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women and victims of human trafficking, and transport them to a migrant hotspot.

The government also acknowledged a tension between the decision and EU law.

“The jurisprudence of the union’s court of justice does not set a practice for circumstances involving state influence, such as the one at hand, in terms of the court approving exceptions made by a member state to rights afforded under the procedure directive,” it analyses, arguing nevertheless that the restrictions it will impose can be regarded as “justified and at least effectively and practically acceptable”.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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