Undocumented migrants now face an ‘extremely difficult’ trip to Finland, according to the Interior Ministry, after ferry firm Finnlines began demanding visas and residence permits before travellers board its ferries in Germany.
The ministry’s Permanent Secretary Päivi Nerg says that the goal is to ensure people without documents cannot easily travel to Finland.
"Asylum-seekers’ journeys to Finland will be extremely difficult, if they’ve left without the required documents," said Nerg.
The ministry had asked Finnlines to tighten up procedures after a trickle of asylum seekers started arriving on the Finnlines ships. Some 20-25 were arriving on each boat before Christmas. Finnlines runs six services a week between Travemünde and Helsinki.
"On the Tallinn and Stockholm routes we haven’t had any problems at all," said Nerg. "We haven’t had undocumented people arriving in Finland via those routes."
Finnlines says that in practice, the new checks mean that asylum seekers don’t travel on its ferries any more—but that they check the documents of every passenger, not just those from countries currently producing many refugees.
"We don’t carry people without the documentation they need to disembark," said the firm’s head of legal affairs, Tapani Voionmaa.
Nerg agrees that there’s nothing exceptional about this, and cites the example of neighbouring Sweden as another country to demand transport providers check passengers’ papers.
"It’s nothing stranger than making sure that everyone on the ship has the required documents," said Nerg. "Individuals should be identifiable and have the correct papers. Sweden also demands that travel documents are in order, when a person starts their journey."
In practice that means a passport, and for those from certain countries, a visa or some other paper that indicates they have the right to be in the Schengen area.
Finland received 32,478 asylum applications in 2015, a ten-fold increase on 2014.