Coast Guard: People smugglers charge up to $15,000 for illicit transport into Finland

The Coast Guard says there are about 10 suspects linked to smuggling in migrants via Belarus. All are permanent residents of Finland.

The Gulf of Finland Coast Guard has launched seven human trafficking investigations. The photo was taken at Helsinki's West Harbour in mid-2020. Image: Otso Ritonummi / Yle

The Gulf of Finland Coast Guard has launched seven human trafficking investigations linked to Belarus. Ilta-Sanomat was the first to report on the matter on Thursday.

Since the spring, an exceptional number of migrants and refugees have arrived at the EU's border with Belarus. Some have been smuggled through transit countries to Finland as well, according to Finnish Coast Guard.

It says there are about 10 suspected smugglers involved, with the operations bearing the hallmarks of organised crime.

The suspects are permanent residents of Finland. Some of them have been detained.

Captain Lieutenant Jukka Tekokoski, the head of the Coast Guard's crime investigation unit, says that individuals have paid the smugglers up to 15,000 dollars for transport to Finland.

"The price range seems to be between 5,000 and 15,000 dollars," he told Yle.

Tekokoski said that more than 10 people have been smuggled into the country in recent months, most of them Iraqis. Many Iraqis have arrived in Belarus this year and travelled onward, hoping to seek refuge in the EU.

Those smuggled to Finland have arrived in various ways, including hidden in the trunk of a car aboard a ferry from Estonia. Others have been brought to Finland by plane from Poland and by ship from Germany.

"Most of them have come into Finland normally with the flow of passengers. There have been attempts to bring people in hidden in the trunks of vehicles. This is particularly dangerous," said Tekokoski.

Estonia steps up border checks

Due to the migration crisis in Belarus, Estonia has intensified its border controls. All vehicles and passengers departing for Helsinki are inspected carefully in the Port of Tallinn.

The Coast Guard has cooperated with authorities in the Baltic states to investigate the smuggling. Some of the suspects are being held in pre-trial detention.

Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have reported sharp increases in migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq crossing their borders from Belarus. The European Union accuses Belarus of pushing asylum seekers across its borders as a form of hybrid warfare designed to put pressure on the EU over sanctions against Minsk after the disputed presidential election.

In August, the European Commission said it was ready to bring new sanctions against Belarus if the situation in the country continues to deteriorate.