Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) and Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS) chatted during a plenary session in parliament in Helsinki on 22 May 2024. Rantanen on Saturday told YLE that the government’s controversial border security act could enter into force in summer. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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BORDER GUARDS will receive training and instructions to be able to assess the vulnerability of asylum seekers following the adoption of a new border security act, Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS) assured on YLE A-studio on Saturday.

The controversial act would enable the government to suspend the reception of asylum applications in order to combat instrumentalised migration at the border of Finland.

Exceptions, though, would be made for migrants in the most vulnerable position, such as children, the disabled and people who would be at risk of torture or the death penalty if they are denied access to the country. The vulnerability of people seeking entry would be determined on a case-by-case basis by individual border guards, an aspect of the proposal that has stirred concerns among legal experts and senior officers at the Finnish Border Guard.

Rantanen on Saturday expressed her confidence that training will provide border guards the tools to make such determinations.

“Border guards evaluate people every day in their work. As far as the new elements are concerned, they’d get training for the set of criteria. They’d also get support from their more experienced [colleagues], meaning they wouldn’t be alone in the situation,” she said to the public broadcasting company.

The responsibility would nonetheless create challenges for border guards, given the possible lack of a common language and the fact that the vulnerability of a person may not be reflected in their appearance.

The Border Security Union has demanded that the determinations be made exclusively by senior border guards or border guards with a rank of at least a lieutenant.

Rantanen dismissed the demand as “not particularly realistic”.

She also revealed that people who attempt to cross the eastern border without justification will primarily be returned to the other side of the border, regardless of the reception willingness of Russia. How it can be accomplished in practice was something she declined to comment on.

“Our starting point is that once this law has entered into force people would be returned to Russia’s side of the border,” she declared. “Making sure it gets done will then fall on the operational planning of the Border Guard.”

Rantanen expressed her confidence that the bill, which has come under criticism from lawmakers and legal experts due to what the government has acknowledged as “tension” with human rights treaties, will receive the requisite support in parliament.

“I do believe that a joint decision can be found on issues related to the security situation,” she said, adding that the bill could be passed in summer.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) told STT earlier this month that the situation near the border remains largely unchanged, with “thousands of people” waiting for the opportunity to seek entry to Finland.

“There’s every reason to presume that if we re-opened a border checkpoint, people would quite surely head there. In addition, there’s significant uncertainty when it comes to the terrain between checkpoints,” he said to the news agency.

Enacting the border security act should allow the government to start re-enabling cross-border traffic in a gradual and deliberate manner, according to Orpo. “It’s clear that we can’t rush into opening [border-crossing points] on a broad basis,” he underscored.

In effect, the bill will require the support of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats. Tytti Tuppurainen, the chairperson of the Social Democratic Parliamentary Group, stated on YLE A-talk on Thursday that the group will form a common position on the bill but stopped short of promising its support.

While the Social Democratic Party wants to combat the weaponisation of migrants by Russia, it views that it is necessary to clearly distinguish between weaponised migration and ordinary asylum seeking, according to Tuppurainen.

She also drew attention to earlier anti-immigrant remarks from ruling party lawmakers, such as Jukka Kopra (NCP) and Mauri Peltokangas (PS).

“When this is the attitude, we want to review [the bill] carefully to make sure the government isn’t using it as a gateway to start sliding Finnish immigration policy in the more indifferent direction advocated by the Finns Party,” said Tuppurainen.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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