Finland is closing down half of its border crossings with Russia, after a sharp rise in illegal migrants reaching Finland from Russia.
Helsinki blames Moscow for increasing the number of migrants trying to enter the country illegally, in response to its decision to join Nato.
Finland will close the border crossings on Friday for three months.
Four of the nine crossings with Russia will close down. Only those more in the further north will remain open, apart from one in Vainikkala.
The spike has raised concerns in Finland’s government.
The migrants are young and healthy persons who already hold residency cards in Russia, says interior minister Mari Rantanen.
She describes them as being “herded into Finland”.
Closing the border crossing points should stop the rise in illegal entry into Finland but the government is prepared to take “even stronger measures if necessary”, it says.
“In a situation where it’s necessary, Finland could shut down the entire border. No international treaty is a suicide pact,” Rantanen says.
Entries into Finland from Russia are spreading toward the north today, says Markku Hassinen, deputy chief of the Finnish Border Guard.
There is a risk of the situation expanding, he says.
Russia usually does not allow people to transit to the border with Finland without possessing immigration papers.
It enabled more illegal immigrants to cross Russia and arrive at the Finnish border during the 2015 refugee crisis. It has again in the last week, spurred by Finland’s entry into NATO.
A probe into the asylum seekers’ background is underway. Their lack of documents is making the work of officials more difficult, says Hassinen.
Closing the border crossings is a move to defend national security, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo says today at a press conference.
The administration is watching the situation closely and prepared to take additional measures if needed to protect border security, Orpo says.
Five border crossings will remain operational, and the government will take moves to centralise asylum applications.
Asylum seekers will continue to be able to request protection, as international law requires, says the prime minister.
Asylum seekers typically arrive at the border in the evening, at night, or early in the morning, during times when there are fewer staff.
During the working day, there are hardly ever, say officials.
Social media posts in Russia advertise transport to the Finnish border at a cost of around €2,000 euros.
After a group of illegal migrants arrived on bicycles, the Finnish government banned use of bicycles to cross the border. It says it would focus on cars to better manage traffic.