The Finnish government has decided to close three more border crossings with Russia, Prime Minister Petteri Orpo announced on Wednesday evening, citing an alleged surge in undocumented asylum-seekers from third countries. The closures will go into effect at the end of the day on Friday.
Orpo and Interior Minister Mari Rantanen held a press conference in Helsinki to announce the move. They said a previous proposal was vetoed by the Ministry of Justice because it did not sufficiently protect the rights of asylum seekers and would have left some Finns stranded in Russia as well.
Finland has eight official border crossings with Russia. It closed four last week. Wednesday’s move means that only the Raja-Jooseppi checkpoint, in the Finnish Lapland, will continue to operate come Saturday.
Helsinki has justified the border closures by accusing Russia of letting through asylum-seekers from Africa and the Middle East who lack passports or proper visas. Defense Minister Antti Hakkanen claimed Moscow was using refugees to “accelerate the migrant crisis in Europe and destabilize its unity.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has rejected these allegations as “completely baseless.”
The border issue can be easily resolved by holding talks with the Russian side, Zakharova told reporters on Wednesday, reminding them that Helsinki has acted unilaterally even though Moscow has remained open to discussion. She also noted that at least some Finns were unhappy with the government’s actions.
Hundreds of people picketed the government in Helsinki last weekend to protest the border closures. Another demonstration was held in the border town of Lappeenranta, many of whose residents have friends and family in Russia.
The “surge” of migrants has amounted to 50-100 a day across all checkpoints, according to Finnish media reports. The outlet Yle said that 51 asylum-seekers from Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria arrived at the Salla checkpoint on Wednesday, while another 11 were stopped at Vartius. Both crossings are scheduled to close on Friday and stay closed till at least December 23.
Finland had previously deployed the military to fortify Vartius. Helsinki has also asked the EU border and coast guard agency, Frontex, for 60 additional officers to help with the crisis.