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4th Feb 2023

Finnish border guards will allow fleeing Russians to enter

  • An undated photo of Finland's Vaalimaa crossing point with Russia (Photo: Rajaliikenne)
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Finnish border guards will allow Russian nationals fleeing Vladimir Putin's military conscription to apply for asylum in Finland.

A spokesperson for the Finnish border guard said that unless the country's political leadership say otherwise, Russian nationals will have their asylum claims processed.

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"We follow international agreements that we have signed and people can seek asylum in Finland," he told EUobserver on Thursday (22 September).

"Generally speaking, of course, if Russian nationals arrive in Finland and they seek asylum normally, of course it is compulsory for us to process those asylum claims," he said.

Finland shares a 1,300km land border with Russia and has around 11 official crossing points. Among the busiest is the Vaalimaa crossing point, where a web cam depicts snap shots of live traffic.

Russian president Putin early on Wednesday morning announced the intention to draft some 300,000 nationals to fight in Ukraine.

The same day, just over 4,800 Russian nationals crossed the Finnish land border, a slight spike when compared to the 3,100 that crossed the previous Wednesday.

"There is an increase but nothing very dramatic at the moment at least," said the spokesperson, noting that weekend figures were also higher.

Finland had also earlier this year announced plans to erect a border fence with Russia.

But the final decision is still pending in the parliament, which also has yet to announce any budget for the project.

The comments come against the backdrop of both Latvia and Estonia having decided to seal their borders to Russians fleeing the draft.

Both are signatories to the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention, which states that people cannot be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.

Lithuania appeared more open to Russia asylum claimants, noting it will deal with them on an individual basis.

But the country had also recently completed a 550km, four-metre high barbed wire fence, along its shared land border with Belarus, while Poland had erected a 186-km-long border wall.

The European Commission on Thursday also chimed in, noting that the right to asylum remains but that security issues requires EU states to take a "case-by-case approach".

"When it comes to people entering the EU and requesting international protection that needs to be guaranteed," Eric Mamer, its chief spokesperson, told reporters in Brussels.

He also said there is a need for a joint position at the EU level on the issue, given the geopolitical context and related security issues.

The EU has already restricted visa requests for Russian nationals, with just under one million holding valid visas to the Schengen area as of earlier this month.

As for those seeking asylum in EU, the EU commission's migration spokesperson Anitta Hipper echoed statements made by Mamer.

She said fundamental rights and all of the legislation in place for asylum procedures at the external borders must be respected by the member states.

But she also noted that, given the war, "the member states will be looking at these on a case-by-case basis."

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