Finland and Russia have agreed to close the Arctic border, thus preventing migrants from getting to the European Union. The Finnish government said in a statement that “only citizens of Finland, Russia and Belarus… can use the border crossings of Salla and Raja-Jooseppi located in northern Finland”. The deal between the two countries would hold for about half a year, although it was not immediately clear when it would take effect because of legal issues that are still outstanding. The agreement was announced in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto.
Although the Arctic part is less popular among migrants than the Balkan or Mediterranean path, over the past four months, more than 1,700 asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan and Syria, have used it to enter the block through two of Finland’s northern entry points. In 2015, approximately 5,500 people took it to get into Norway but the influx was redirected to Finland after Norway had closed their border crossings. The government in Helsinki commented that “the purpose of these restrictions is to prevent organized illegal immigration.”
Norway’s asylum policy had been under immense pressure before the closure of its border. The country had even attempted to deport hundreds of migrants to Russia, which objected to the scheme with politicians trying to defend their refusal based on “security concerns” in the face of the criticism of human rights groups. At the same time, Finland, a country of 5.4 million people, accepted about 32,000 asylum seekers last year, as the whole continent is struggling to deal with the worst migrant crisis since World War II.