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Human smuggling downtick at Finnish border

Last year the number of suspected human smuggling cases doubled compared to previous years, but this spring the number of cases has decreased significantly. The Border Guard still has its work cut out for it in delving through last year's instances.

Image: Tommi Parkkinen / Yle

Organised, illegal immigration has tailed off at Finland's border control stations this spring. The Border Guard's crime unit says that the sharp uptick in illegal immigration cases has begun a clear decline.

"The number of cases has gone down a lot and returned to the levels of before last autumn's spike," says crime prevention chief Kai Kettunen from the Gulf of Finland Coast Guard. "People are still being smuggled into the country and cases are still being opened, but we can now say that the situation has normalised."

Human smuggling into Finland has been in steep ascent in the last few years. The Border Guard uncovered some 200 suspected cases of people smuggling in 2015, double the amount of the year previously. The number of cases runs hand in hand with the number of asylum seekers seeking entry.

"With more than 30,000 estimated asylum seekers entering Finland, it's easy to see why human smuggling is considered lucrative," Rasmus Friman from the Coast Guard says. "The fewer people come here, the fewer cases of trafficking we'll see."

Last year's cases still open

Courtrooms will see many illegal immigration suits in the near future where criminal organisations have brought people across the Finnish border. On Friday the Helsinki District Court handed down convictions for 11 people for smuggling some 50 migrants into the country.

Courts in south-west Finland also convicted five men who smuggled or attempted to smuggle some 150 Iraqis.

Investigations initiated last year are still keeping the Border Guard busy.

"Over the autumn and winter we've been able to get the biggest and more acute cases out of the way and we're now onto the smaller instances. Had the rising trend continued for any more than a year or few, we would have been in hot water," Kettunen says.

Border station life is easier now, but no one knows quite what the future may bring.

"The situation is challenging and very hard to pin down," says Kettunen. "It's calm now, but even small-scale decisions in Finland or in Europe can have dramatic effects here."

6:19 pm: Corrected to remove references to human trafficking.