HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland will set up barriers at four crossings on its border with Russia from midnight in an effort to stop a surge in migrants that Helsinki says is being coordinated by Moscow, officials said on Friday.
Finland accused Russian authorities of directing migrants to the crossings in response to its decision to increase defense cooperation with the United States, which the Kremlin rejected.
The Finnish border guard said the barriers would be set up at four of the nine crossings with Russia, in Valima, Noigama, Imatra and Nirala in the southeast of the country.
“Our goal is to use barriers to prevent entry,” Matti Pitcanetti, head of international affairs for the Border Patrol, told reporters. He added that these measures came in response to changes in Russian border policy.
About 300 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Syria, arrived in Finland this week, according to the border guard.
Nearly 100 people had entered Finland from Russia by midday on Friday alone, officials said.
Finland shares a 1,340 km (833 mi) border with Russia which also serves as the external border of the European Union.
Helsinki angered Moscow when it joined NATO in April after decades of non-alignment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pitcaniti said that as of Saturday, asylum seekers arriving via Russia would only be allowed to hand in their applications at two northern border crossings, at Sala and Vartius.
Finland’s non-discrimination ombudsman said on Thursday that Helsinki remains obligated under international treaties and EU law to allow asylum seekers to seek protection.
The European Union’s border agency Frontex told Reuters it would send officers to Finland to help protect the border.
“We… are preparing to provide immediate assistance through the additional deployment of our permanent officers,” a Frontex spokesperson said in an email.
On Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen thanked the Finnish authorities for protecting the bloc’s external borders. “Russia’s exploitation of migrants is shameful,” she added.
Additional reporting by Jan Stropczewski in Brussels; Editing by Terje Solsvik, Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens
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