ERR in Finland: Southeastern border calm Thursday ahead of closure

Vaalimaa border checkpoint.
Vaalimaa border checkpoint. Source: ERR

Finland's southernmost border crossing on its frontier with the Russian Federation remained calm on Thursday, ERR reports, ahead of the closure of the southeastern border by Finland as announced earlier that day.

Helsinki made the move to close checkpoints, including the one at Vaalimaa, which ERR reported from, following a surge in illegal migration from the Russian side of the border, a surge which has also been observed on Estonia's Eastern border.

Finnish authorities have reported a sea change in recent weeks in that, whereas Russian officials tended to prevent migrants who lacked the required documentation from transiting across that country, now they are permitting them to do so – the inference being that this is a means of ramping up migratory pressure on the eastern border of Finland, which joined NATO earlier this year.

Capt. Jussi Vainikka of the Finnish Border Guard's Southeastern Region, told ERR's Vahur Lauri, who like many Estonians is fully conversant in Finnish, that the authority intends to "wait calmly to see how the situation develops.

Location of the Vaalimaa border checkpoint. Source: Google Maps

"There are fewer border checks here, but the border guard authority also has other tasks. There are enough regular people who have their papers in order, crossing from both sides of the border - those who want to cross the border."

"Illegal border crossers have arrived in the form of cyclists, it's difficult to find them say what's coming," said Capt. Vainikka added.

Of the first group, many are regular border crossers in both directions, who will be affected by the planned closure.

One, Olga, is a Russian citizen who regularly travels to visit family in Helsinki – to the extent that she has learned the Finnish language over the 20 years she has been doing so.

"I don't know what [the closure] will mean. It certainly means that if I can't see my sister as often as I want to, this will not be a nice thing," she went on, adding that she would not have time to pack up and move to Finland given her family is in St. Petersburg, and the closure is imminent.

On the day, no one was found to be attempting to cross the border at Vaalimaa on Thursday, Capt. Vainikka told ERR.

Personnel at the next checkpoint to the North, Nujiamaa, however, encountered five illegal migrants, while on Wednesday that figure had been 75, ERR reports.

From overnight Friday to Saturday, Finland's Southeastern border with Russia is closed from the inside.

This state of affairs is set to remain in place through to February 18, and will affect families separated by the border who will likely not be able to spend Christmas together, as well as those who cross into Russia to purchase cheaper fuel and other items, or people who cross in the other direction to purchase items not available in Russia.

Finland's government announced Friday it would be closing the Southeastern border checkpoints, the checkpoints which see the highest throughflow of traffic, from Friday night, citing a surge in migration and illegal migration in particular.

Many of the illegal crossers seek asylum, and Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, Turkish and Somali nationals have numbered among them.

In the 2015 migrant crisis, Russia had engaged in similar migratory pressure tactics on its border with Finland – around 2,000 people arrived there and claimed asylum, while the regime in Belarus to the South also pursued, and continues to pursue, the tactic on its Western borders with the EU.

In addition to joining NATO, a recently signed defensive cooperation between Finland and the U.S. and the ensuing upset it may have caused may be behind the development.

In addition to Vaalimaa and Nuijamaa, the Southeastern checkpoints at Imatra and Niirala will be closed from Saturday. Four more checkpoints further north on the Finland-Russia border, at Vartius, Kuusamo, Salla and Raja-Jooseppi, will remain open as things stand.

On Estonia's Eastern Border, Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Director Egert Belitšev reported similar attempted crossings Thursday morning

19 people were allowed to cross the Russian border and try and enter Estonia without the correct documents, he said.

Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) said, also on Thursday, that eight Somali citizens attempted to cross into Estonia from Russia on Thursday morning, without the right of entry to the Schengen Area.

Russia itself is closing its border checkpoint at Ivangorod, on the opposite side of the Narva River from the city of Narva, from February next year, at least to vehicle traffic, citing a need to carry out reconstruction work. The border will still be open to pedestrian crossers.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' Vahur Lauri.

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