Minister of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS) attended a plenary session in the parliament on 24 November 2023. Rantanen on Wednesday clarified the statement she made on YLE A-studio on Tuesday, admitting that she made a blunder in talking about the number of undocumented migrants in Russia. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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MINISTER of the Interior Mari Rantanen (PS) has admitted to making a mistake in estimating that there are 10 million undocumented migrants in Russia.

“That was purely a blunder and a mistake by the minister. I meant to say that Russia has around seven million foreigners of whom an estimated one to two million are in the country illegally,” she clarified in an interview with YLE on Wednesday.

Rantanen on Tuesday appeared to hint that up to millions of undocumented migrants could flock from Russia to Finland. “Anyone can go online and look up how many people there are in some African countries. The potential [number] is really high. It’s also good to keep in mind that, according to estimates, Russia alone has some 10 million illegal residents,” she claimed on YLE A-studio.

The public broadcasting company was unable to verify the claim from the Ministry of the Interior.

Joni Virkkunen, a research director at the University of Eastern Finland, told YLE on Wednesday that Russia is home to approximately seven million foreigners, most of whom are residing in the country legally.

Jussi Lassila, a researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, viewed that it is generally misleading to refer to the total number of undocumented migrants in Russia in the context of the potential number of people seeking entry to Finland.

“I doubt that even in the worst-case scenario everyone who’s regarded as a migrant in Russia will be directed to Finland. This is an extremely theoretical scenario,” he analysed in an interview with the public broadcaster, highlighting that mobilising such a large group of people to the border would require a substantial influence campaign by Russia.

“Even migrant workers living in poor conditions aren’t probably doing so poorly that you could get all of them to leave.”

The Finnish government has closed all border-crossing points on the eastern border in response to what it says is a potential threat to national security arising from the arrival of undocumented migrants at the border between Finland and Russia. The recent increase in the number of arrivals is believed to have been caused by a hybrid campaign by Russia, with Russian authorities reportedly helping people to travel to the border regardless of whether they have the necessary travel documents.

Russia has denied such allegations.

Lassila on Wednesday reminded YLE that Russia has sought to make sure its actions are undetected, another fact that suggests a low likelihood of large masses of people congregating at the border.

“If Russia mobilised a substantial number of people to the border in spite of the fact that it’s closed, it’d require a completely different kind of policy approach. In that sense, it’s possible that the border closure is working,” he said.

Finland, he added, has a tendency to overstate its position.

“If Russia slid into complete chaos, then we could possibly contemplate these kinds of threat scenarios. Still, Russia also has other neighbouring countries. Finland is protected by its northern location,” Lassila said to YLE.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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