Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) gestured during a question-time debate in parliament in Helsinki on Thursday, 14 March 2024. Orpo on Thursday unveiled the first details of a government bill designed to bolster security on the border between Finland and Sweden. Helsingin Sanomat reported that it remains uncertain whether the bill has the support of all four ruling parties, given that it stands in some tension with international treaties. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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PRIME MINISTER Petteri Orpo (NCP) on Thursday offered Members of the Finnish Parliament the first details of a bill designed to bolster security at the border between Finland and Russia.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote yesterday, citing information it has obtained, that the so-called refoulement act is expected to grant authorities responsible for upholding border security relatively extensive rights to refuse entry to migrants sent to the border as part of a hybrid campaign by a foreign state, such as Russia.

The migrants could be removed from the country forcibly, if necessary.

Sources of the newspaper also indicated that the bill would enable authorities to suspend the receipt of asylum applications regionally for a pre-determined period of time, with possible exceptions for asylum seekers who are sick or who would likely face serious problems upon their return to Russia.

Drafted under the guidance of the Ministry of the Interior, the bill has yet been published in its entirety.

Orpo on Thursday stressed that preparatory work is ongoing and that the government would hold additional meetings today, declining to comment on whether all ruling parties support what, from the perspective of international treaties, is a problematic bill.

“We’ll find out tomorrow,” he retorted when asked if the bill will be published for comments on Friday.

Orpo also declined to shed further light on the contents of the bill.

“In Finland, decisions concerning national security have always been made and will be made together now, too. If and when we move forward with this, we need a large parliamentary majority. That’s why this co-operation between the government and opposition is so important,” the premier said in the Parliament House.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, the Swedish People’s Party informed its coalition partners last month that it is not prepared to approve a bill that clearly violates the constitution, international treaties or EU law. Chairperson Anna-Maja Henriksson described the border security bill to the newspaper yesterday as “very difficult” and “challenging to enact”.

“We don’t have the final proposal yet, but everyone’s aware that we’re in sensitive territory when it comes to basic rights. Finland has a long tradition of holding fast to international treaties and EU law,” she noted.

“There are still a lot of question marks, and it’s impossible to say what’s the final position of the Swedish People’s Party. We’ll have to examine the final bill and get assessments from experts in constitutional law and international law, as well as other relevant parties.”

The Finnish government last month decided to extend the closure of border-crossing points on the eastern border until 14 April. The expectation is that the closure will continue at least until a bill that addresses the situation has been passed, despite the complications the closure has caused for people with family on both sides of the border.

A Russian hybrid campaign has brought roughly 1,300 asylum applicants from 29 countries to Finland since August 2023. YLE on Thursday reported that over 200 of the applicants have disappeared since arriving in reception centres, according to an estimate by the National Bureau of Investigation (KRP).

KRP yesterday told the public broadcasting company that the arrivals include dozens who, based on a provisional assessment, might pose a threat to national security.

Such people can include people with ties to armed groups or extremist organisations, people who have participated in hostilities, people who are subject to an international arrest warrant, people who are believed to have used forged travel documents, people who may have participated in human smuggling, or people who have been convicted of a criminal offence or imposed an entry ban in the Schengen Area.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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