Against the background of the war in Ukraine, a diplomatic row is brewing between Russia and Finland. Last week, Finland announced that it would imminently be closing four of its eight border crossings into Russia, promptly doing so on 18 November. The reason? An unexpected increase in the number of illegal migrants coming over the border from Russia in recent weeks. Finnish minister of internal affairs Marie Rantanen put the blame for this squarely on Russia. ‘The activities of the Russian authorities have changed in such a way,’ she said, ‘that it has become possible to get from Russia to Finland, despite the lack of necessary documents.’
At midnight on Saturday, the crossings at Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, Imatra and Niirala – the most southerly of the checkpoints along the 830-mile Russo-Finnish border – shut. They will remain so until 18 February, although it is likely the closures will be extended further.
Finland’s hurried decision to shut four of its border crossings was triggered by the arrival of a large number of third-country asylum seekers from Russia, reported by Finnish public broadcaster YLE to be over 500, since the start of November. If correct, this represents a staggering increase of nearly 1,500 per cent on October, when just 32 migrants crossed in the whole month, with 13 crossing in the month before that.
Given the number of migrants crossing the English Channel, this may not seem like a huge number to those in Britain, but the Finnish population is just over 5.5 million. This means that, proportionally, the influx of migrants crossing the border into Finland is significant. The number of asylum seekers who have reportedly crossed this month alone has exceeded Finland’s yearly annual refugee quota of 500.
Russia, unsurprisingly, has denied Finland’s allegations of deliberately orchestrating this influx of migrants.