Finland mulls more border restrictions as asylum seekers ‘impossible’ to return

World leaders gather for the 78th annual United Nations General Assembly

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 20, 2023. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

HELSINKI, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Finland said on Monday it had become impossible to return asylum seekers who did not meet the criteria for protection and said that it might further restrict migrant entries from Russia following a jump in the number of applicants.

Over 500 asylum seekers, mostly from Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, arrived in Finland – an eastern outpost of the European Union – via Russia in the past two weeks, prompting Helsinki to shut half its border crossings and accuse Moscow of funnelling migrants to its border. Moscow denies the charge.

“Deportation of migrants who don’t meet the criteria for asylum has become impossible, so entering the border means you stay in that country if you want to,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said during a state visit to Poland.

Niinisto called for an EU-wide solution to stop uncontrollable entry to Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.

“It is impossible that each country just by itself tries to take care of the situation which might break out in a neighbouring country immediately afterwards,” Niinisto said.

Migrants entering Finland from Russia can now only request asylum at two of the remaining four crossing points on their shared 1,340-km (830-mile) border.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said his government would take further action if required, but declined to say whether it would close all remaining crossings on the border with Russia.

“The main thing is that we are decisive… If there is no change in the situation, we will take more action quickly,” Orpo said during a visit to the still-open Vartius crossing some 700 km (435 miles) north of Helsinki,

Tomi Kivenjuuri, head of the legal division at the Finnish Border Guard, said not all those who arrived had originally wanted to come to Finland, but were forced to seek asylum after Russian authorities closed the border gates behind them.

“They have been left with no other choice in that situation,” Kivenjuuri told Reuters.

The Kremlin said on Monday it had lodged a formal protest over the partial border closure, saying the decision reflected an anti-Russian stance.

In 2021, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia accused Moscow’s close ally Belarus of artificially creating a migrant crisis on their borders by flying in people from the Middle East and Africa and attempting to push them across the frontier – an accusation Belarus repeatedly denied.

Reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki; additional reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo and Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Gareth Jones

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