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Ban on bicycle border crossings at eastern Lapland border

The Lapland Border Guard of Finland decided on Saturday that crossings at its two eastern border stations of Salla and Raja-Jooseppi on the Finland-Russia border will no longer allowed by bicycle, only by car.

Turvapaikanhakijoita saapumassa polkupyörillä Raja-Joosepin rajanylityspaikalle Venäjän puolelta aiemmin tänä vuonna (2015).
Asylum-seekers arriving by bike. Image: Yle

Potential migrants were stumped on Saturday when the Lapland Border Guard made a decision to only allow cars to pass through the eastern border at the Salla and Raja-Jooseppi border crossing stations. The situation was further complicated by Sunday's -20 degrees Celsius weather.

The majority of asylum seekers entering Finland from Russia have been doing so on bicycles.

Thousands of migrants from war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan have travelled the so-called Arctic Route via Murmansk to the Norwegian border, but since Norway closed its northern border to anyone without a visa in November, many have tried to gain entry to Finland instead.

Too cold

"This is a completely legal decision," says Tiilikainen. "It is based on security concerns and the desire to prevent illegal immigration. Riding bikes in winter conditions without prior experience is dangerous. We also don't want these people to be crossing the borders with bicycles because it's too cold. We hope to prevent people from putting themselves in harm's way."

The Russian media said on Friday that there are some 50 asylum seekers awaiting entry to Finland at the Russian side of the border crossing in Salla. The local Murmansk TV station's Christmas report showed a large group of people waiting in their cars near the border.

The chief of the Lapland Border Guard Tommi Tiilikainen says that there may be hundreds if not thousands of asylum seekers waiting to get into Finland in Murmansk, but admits that he has no exact knowledge of the current situation.

A total of 638 people have applied for asylum in Finland at the Lapland border crossing stations so far this year.

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