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Finland extends closure of Russian border until further notice over migration concerns

Finland has decided to extend the closure of its border crossing points with Russia indefinitely due to concerns of organized migration orchestrated by Moscow.

Finland will extend the closure of its border crossing points with Russia beyond the current April 14 deadline "until further notice" due to a high risk of organized migration orchestrated by Moscow, the Finnish government said on Thursday.

The Finnish Interior Ministry said in a statement that the Nordic country's national security and public order would come under serious threat if the estimated hundreds of third-country nationals were to continue to attempt to enter from Russia without proper documentation.

"Based on information provided by public authorities, the risk that instrumentalized migration (by Russia) will resume and expand as seen previously remains likely," the ministry said.


Finland closed the 830-mile land border late last year after more than 1,300 migrants without proper documentation or visas — an unusually high number — entered the country in the three months since September, not long after Finland joined the NATO alliance.

Most of the migrants hail from the Middle East and Africa, from countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The vast majority of them have sought asylum in Finland, a European Union member state with a population of 5.6 million.

The Finnish Border Guard has earlier said that many migrants hold valid visas for working or studying - or have a residence permit - in Russia, which is considered a safe country.

Accusing Russia of deliberately ushering migrants to the normally heavily guarded Russia-Finland border zone that serves also as the EU’s external border in the north, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has extended the closure of checkpoints several times.

The Kremlin has denied Helsinki's claims and instead accused the Finnish government of an unwillingness to hold a dialogue on the border issue.

All eight Finland-Russia land border crossing points for people have been closed since Dec. 15. The southeastern rail checkpoint for cargo trains in Vainikkala remains open but the government said on Thursday it would close three maritime checkpoints starting April 15.

Migrants can continue to seek asylum in Finland, part of EU´s passport-free Schengen zone, at Finnish airports and harbors, the government said.

"Finnish authorities see this as a long-term situation," Interior Minister Mari Rantanen said. "We have not seen anything this spring that would lead us to conclude that the (migration) situation has changed meaningfully."

In addition, warmer spring weather is estimated by the Finnish government to increase the number of migrants reaching the border, putting pressure on Helsinki to find a sustainable solution.

"There are hundreds and possibly thousands of people close to Finland’s border on the Russian side that could be instrumentalized against Finland," Rantanen said. "Instrumentalized migration is one way that Russia can put pressure on and affect the security and social stability of Finland and the EU."

The Finnish Cabinet is currently drafting a legal act on measures to combat instrumentalized migration, including allowing the so-called pushback method in expelling migrants and asylum seekers, on the border with Russia.

Pushbacks, the forcible return of people across an international border without an assessment of their rights to apply for asylum or other protection, violate both international and EU law. However, EU members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have previously resorted to the controversial measure when dealing with migrants attempting to enter from Belarus.

The interior ministry said the legislative proposal on migration is to be submitted to Eduskunta, or the Parliament, as soon as possible. It must have the support of a wide majority of lawmakers to pass and the proposal has already been widely debated by experts, politicians and citizens.

Earlier, the government said it had received international support for the law from the EU and other organizations.

Finland acts as the EU’s external border in the north and makes up a significant part of NATO’s northeastern flank.

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