Finland to reopen 2 out of 8 border crossings with Russia after a 2-week closure over migrant influx

HELSINKI (AP) — Finland’s government will reopen two out of eight border crossing points with Russia later this week, officials said Tuesday, following a sudden influx of migrants in November.

Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s Cabinet temporarily closed the entire 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) border two weeks ago over concerns that Moscow was using migrants to destabilize Finland in an alleged act of “hybrid warfare.”

The Kremlin has denied that Russia is encouraging migrants to enter Finland and has said that it regrets the Finnish border closures.

Finland became NATO’s 31st member in April, and many citizens in the country interpret Moscow’s actions as revenge for Helsinki’s decision to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance after decades of nonmilitary alignment and pragmatic friendly ties with Russia.

Orpo and Interior Minister Mari Rantanen told a news conference on Tuesday that two southeastern crossing points — Imatra and Niirala — would reopen from Thursday until at least Jan. 14. In total, there are eight crossing points for passenger traffic on the Finland-Russia land border, and one rail checkpoint for cargo trains.

“The purpose of (Moscow’s) actions is to destabilize our society. We cannot allow this. If the operation continues, the border will be completely closed again,” Rantanen said. “It’s not about the numbers (of migrants) but the phenomenon itself.”

Orpo stressed that the government’s decision to keep the remaining six crossing points closed for now was unanimous.

He said the two-week complete border closure managed to stop the influx of migrants and that his Cabinet “decisively” informed Moscow that Helsinki “doesn’t accept” Russia’s alleged actions.

Finnish authorities say that nearly 1,000 migrants without proper visas or valid documentation had arrived at the border since August until end-November, with more than 900 of them in November alone. The numbers are remarkably higher than usual.

Finland, a nation of 5.6 million people, makes up a significant part of NATO’s northeastern flank and acts as the European Union’s external border in the north.

Earlier December, Finnish authorities said the vast majority of the migrants — almost all of whom are seeking asylum in Finland — hailed from three countries: Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

Smaller groups were reported to include citizens of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya and Pakistan, among other nations.

While Finnish border officials initially said migrants used Russia merely as a transit country on way from their home countries to the EU, authorities later said that a clear majority of them were living — working or studying — in Russia with legal visas.


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