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

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Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations 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 it may further restrict entry for migrants from Russia after a surge in applicants .

Over 500 asylum seekers, mainly from Yemen, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, arrived in Finland – an eastern outpost of the EU – via Russia in the past two weeks, prompting Helsinki to close half of its border crossings and accusing Moscow of leading migrants to its border. Moscow denies the charge.

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

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

“It is impossible for each country alone to try to take care of the situation that may erupt in a neighboring country immediately after,” Niinisto said.

Migrants entering Finland from Russia can now only apply for 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.

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

Tomi Kivenjuuri, head of the legal department at the Finnish border guard, said that not all of those who arrived had initially 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 filed 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 at their borders by flying people in from the Middle East and Africa and trying to push them over the border – a charge Belarus has 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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