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Border Guard: Rise in Syrians entering Finland illegally through Russia

The Finnish Border Guard estimates that the number of people from Syria crossing the Russian-Finnish border is on the rise. Individuals have been detained attempting to cross into EU territory.

Rajanylittäjiä Niiralan raja-asemalla.
People shown crossing into Finland at Niirala, legally. Image: Heikki Haapalainen / Yle

The repercussions of the war in Syria can also been seen as heightened illegal traffic on the Finnish border. A Niirala border crossing social media page reports that several Syrian nationals attempting to enter Finland from the east near Sortavala have been taken into custody.

The Finnish Border Guard’s risk analysis chief Erkki Matilainen says that his unit is well aware of the situation.

"There is a slight rise in the number of Syrians in Russia right now," he says.

Over the years, the most commonly detained illegal border-hoppers on the Russian side have had African and Middle-Eastern backgrounds.

"The situation concerns internal borders more than it does terrain borders, which we can observe in various ports," Matilainen says.

Risk grows in summer

In December, three Syrian men crossed the Russian-Finnish border at Kitee. The men told Yle at the time that they walked over the Kangasjärvi lake during the harsh midwinter using a mobile phone map application.

In early June, two men without identification – suspected to be from Syria – also crossed the border at Kitee.

During the summer, the risk of people entering the country illegally is higher, simply because it is easier to cross terrain in warmer weather.

"We have to recognise the risk," Matilainen says. "We direct our patrols and aerial surveillance based on these risk analyses."

Dozens cross yearly

Russian border guards apprehend some 200-300 illegal crossers each year.

"About ten percent of people crossing in illegally elude the Russian authorities. That means that about 20-30 individuals enter the country without permission annually, whether cross-country or among border traffic," Matilainen says.

The Border Guard says it estimates that if successful infiltrations were to occur, it could engender an image of easy access, which in turn would bring in more illegal border jumpers. Surveillance and cooperation, they say, should be pre-emptive.

The FBG says it also holds that large groups of people from different countries call forth more refugees and others "in search of a better life", saying that people from thousands of kilometres away seek out countries where many of their compatriots already reside.

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