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5th Mar 2024

EU backs Finland border closure as Russia conscripts migrants

  • Finnish military bolstering one of the country's land border crossing points with Russia (Photo: Finnish Border Guard)
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The European Commission is praising Finland for shutting down its land borders with Russia despite reports prospective asylum seekers there are being forcibly conscripted to fight in Ukraine.

"Finland has been impacted by illegal border crossings orchestrated by Russia," said European Commission president Von der Leyen, in a letter to EU leaders ahead of the summit in Brussels on Friday (15 December), where migration will be discussed.

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Von der Leyen said the EU plans to bolster its support for the Finnish border by funding additional border control capabilities, equipment, infrastructure and surveillance.

This comes despite recent BBC reports that some of those seeking to cross into Finland and then lawfully claim asylum are being coerced to go fight in Ukraine on behalf of the Russian state.

And it also comes as Finland resealed its land borders, after a temporary re-opening, due to some reported 100 people who tried to cross its 1,300km Russia land frontier.

It means the whole eastern border will be closed between 15 December and 14 January 2024.

But last week, the BBC obtained evidence of Russia luring prospective asylum seekers from the Finnish border and then coercing them in pre-deportation detention centres to sign contracts for army service in Ukraine.

Russia is giving them a choice between deportation or a contract to go and fight on behalf of the Russian army, reports the BBC.

EUobserver saw similar claims made late last month on Telegram accounts dedicated to people hoping to make the land crossings from Russia to Finland.

"Those who have an expired visa are arrested near the Russian-Finnish border crossings. Deported or given a choice between imprisonment or joining the Russian army against Ukraine," stated the administrator of the account on 28 November.

Finland says people can still file asylum claims at airports and other ports like harbours.

But rights defenders says this is impossible from Russia.

"The fact of the matter, of course, is that none of these are accessible coming from Russia," said Annu Lehtinen of the Finnish Refugee Council, last month.

The European Commission, as well as Finland, have since accused Russia of instrumentalisation, a term that blames Moscow for deliberately shuffling asylum seekers and migrants to the border in order to stoke chaos.

The concept has been wired into an upcoming EU asylum reform overhaul and gives EU states the options to derogate from laws that entitle people to file asylum claims.

Alberto-Horst Neidhardt, a migration expert at the Brussels-based think tank, the European Policy Centre, says the overhaul risks embedding a crisis response mode into any increase of irregular arrivals.

"It is not unforeseeable where we will have some sort of normalisation of the state of exception, which to put it in less academic terms, is essentially where member states will go their own way," he said, earlier this month.

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