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Uptick in asylum seekers on eastern border

Russia is now allowing people without visas to pass into Finnish checkpoints.

Venäjältä Suomeen saapuvia henkilöautoja Vaalimaan rajanylityspaikalla.
File photo of the Vaalimaa border crossing in 2022. Image: Antro Valo / Yle
Yle News

The last few months have seen more people attempting to enter Finland from Russia without a visa, according to the Finnish Border Guard.

Since August, border officials have recorded 91 cases in which citizens of third countries transiting through Russia have sought asylum at Finnish checkpoints.

Russian authorities have not previously allowed travel from Russia to Finnish border crossings without the necessary travel documents. This signals a change by the Russian authorities, according to Finnish officials.

The Border Guard said it believed the recent phenomenon was likely linked to organised crime. The situation at the border, however, remains calm, Jukka Lukkari, Deputy Commander of the Southeast Finland Border Guard, told Yle.

Those attempting to cross the border unlawfully are increasingly travelling by bicycle.

"In the last week, there have been around 30 arrivals. This is clearly a growing phenomenon," Lukkari said.

In response, Finland's southeastern border crossing stations stopped allowing cyclists through this past Thursday, according to Lukkari.

"It's a signal"

A hybrid influence expert told Yle on Sunday that Russia's border behaviour was a clear message to Finland.

"It's a signal they want to send Finland. That seems clear," said Jukka Savolainen of the Helsinki-based European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE).

"If they open up the route from there, we'll soon have a refugee problem," he added.

Commenting on the situation via email, Interior Minister Mari Rantanen (Finns) said Finland was prepared for a change in the border security situation.

"We are prepared, and if necessary, we will act as the situation requires," she said.

Some 3,000 people cross the border both ways every day in Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa and Imatra.

In recent years, Finland has prepared for a situation in which Russia might engage in hybrid influencing by directing large numbers of asylum seekers to the Finnish border. Russia executed such an operation at the Finnish border during the refugee crisis in 2015.

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