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Finland considers new asylum rules amid Poland-Belarus migrant crisis

Some 30 migrants have arrived in Finland as a result of a crisis the EU says was orchestrated by Belarus.

Kurdiperhe metsässä Puolan puolella rajaa.
Thousands of mostly Middle Eastern migrants are attempting to cross the border from Belarus into Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Image: Wojtek Radwanski / AFP
Yle News

Finnish politicians are reacting to a Die Welt report that Belarus is channelling Middle Eastern migrants to Germany and Finland to protest sanctions against Minsk.

Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo (Green) said some 30 migrants had reached Finland via Belarus.

"Information from the Border Guard and my own civil servants point to these individuals arriving via a hybrid operation. What Belarus is doing now is reprehensible," she said.

Ohisalo told Yle that Finland's emergency powers laws were in need of swift updating, noting that current rules no longer correspond to threats and risks emerging in Europe.

National Coalition Party (NCP) and Finns Party MPs have called for the government to urgently introduce legislative changes to make it possible to suspend the reception of asylum applications.

NCP leader Petteri Orpo said Finland lacks the legal framework for dealing with uncontrolled migration.

"We have to send the world the message that Finland can't be influenced by these types of operations. We can if necessary close our borders by not accepting asylum applications. That's a message to people that it's not worth trusting smugglers," he said.

Escalating Polish border crisis

Thousands of mostly Middle Eastern migrants are attempting to cross the border from Belarus into Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö told Yle the situation on the Polish border was alarming.

"It looks bad. Especially that Belarus is pushing people across the border [into Poland] at an increasing pace," he said.

The EU has said Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko's pathway into Europe for Middle Eastern migrants is a hybrid operation by Belarus to protest sanctions imposed on the country after its disputed 2020 presidential election.

On Wednesday Niinistö discussed the situation on the Poland-Belarus border with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Niinistö said he and Duda both speculated as to why Belarus was exerting pressure on Poland.

"The question arises whether the aim is to create a border conflict or drive a wedge in the EU," Niinistö said, adding that "both scenarios suggest a hybrid operation."

Brussels and Warsaw have meanwhile been at odds for years. Last month the EU fined Poland millions of euros in a rule of law dispute.

Niinistö: This isn't 2015

The Finnish President said the current situation is different from the 2015 migration crisis which saw 32,000 people seek asylum in Finland. He pointed out that six years ago people arrived on their own accord, whereas this situation was being orchestrated by Belarus.

On Thursday German newspaper Die Welt claimed that Germany and Finland are the main destinations for migrants trying to enter the EU through the Belarusian-Polish border.

Die Welt said it had obtained a classified EU Commission document, noting that four to seven planes were arriving in Minsk every week carrying migrants.

According to Niinistö, "it's worrying that people would readily make their way to Finland through Poland and the Baltics."

He said there was a need to revise current legislation to cover hybrid threats, also hinting at tightening migration policies.

"In a few New Year's addresses I’ve made the point that in today's world it's not really possible to function with loose legislation, especially in comparison to the other Nordics," he said, alluding to asylum policies.

This year Denmark set a target of zero asylum applications.

In terms of migrants massing on the Polish border, Niinistö said dialogue between all parties involved, including Russia, was the only way forward.

"Pure speculation"

Commenting on Die Welt's story, European Parliament members Heidi Hautala (Green) and Nils Torvalds (SPP) said they were suspicious of the German paper's reporting in terms of migrants heading to Finland.

"Die Welt isn't exactly the beacon of truth," Torvalds told Yle on Friday.

Hautala meanwhile called the story "pure speculation."

"There's a rumour that there's some [classified EU] document. We haven't seen it, and Die Welt hasn't made it public," Hautala said.

Both Torvalds and Hautala also said it was unlikely Lukashenko would follow through on threats to interrupt gas deliveries to the EU.

"If he would cut the gas supply, he would actually be hurting Russian interests and Belarus' reputation as a secure natural gas producer," Torvalds said.

Hautala meanwhile added that Lukashenko would need Vladimir Putin's blessing before cutting off any gas deliveries.

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