Tuesday, February 7

Finns fear migrants will be sent to their border with Russia

The Finnish government will face a vote of no confidence in parliament, called by opposition parties over security concerns on the eastern border with Russia.

Opponents of Prime Minister Sanna Marin, led by the right-wing Finnish Party and the center-right parties Kokoomus, Christian Democrats and Movement Now, say her red-green coalition has done little to protect the border from possible “hybrid tactics.” that they fear that Russia could use against the Nordic nation.

Specifically, they want new legislation to be passed allowing for the temporary closure of crossings on the 1,340-kilometer border, including for asylum seekers.

It comes amid tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border. Warsaw says Minsk has sent immigrants from the Middle East and then sent them to the eastern border of the EU. Poland claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in the controversy.

“Finland must prevent foreign countries from experimenting with hybrid influences by exploiting asylum seekers.” Kai Mykkänen, leader of the Kokoomus parliamentary group, said on Tuesday.

“It is the only way to prevent a situation that will be a human catastrophe for tens of thousands of people caught in the process and a threat to the national security and sovereignty of the host country,” he added.

Although the opposition does not have a majority in parliament to overthrow the government on its own on this issue, raising national security concerns about Russia can be an emotional issue in Finland.

Mykkänen, a former interior minister in the last government, says he just wants to make sure Finland’s neighbors “don’t have tools to spoil the asylum system by misusing it and turning it into a tool in their hybrid operation, motivated by their hostile targets. Politics “.

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While Kokoomus is clearly voicing his concerns about national security, the Finnish Party, critical of immigration, has long called for the power to close borders to stop what they see as an uncontrolled flow of asylum seekers from abroad. of the EU.

Why Finnish fears are not without reason

Finland’s political leaders have good reason to be concerned about border security, especially when they see the situation on the Belarusian-Polish border and see a familiar situation.

In January and February 2016, nearly 1,000 migrants arrived at an Arctic border post between Finland and Russia. Finnish officials believe that the Russian authorities provided them with bus transportation and hotel accommodation on their journey north, and instructed them to apply for asylum once they crossed the border.

It is considered to be Russia’s first and most successful hybrid attack of its kind against an EU member state to date, although Finnish officials and politicians were reluctant to label it as such at the time.

Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute for International Affairs calls it a “proof of concept” operation.

“Russia needed to show the public without very clear fingerprints, that they could start this flow of migrants and shut it down again.”

“The northern border is the end of the line. It is not by chance that you are there. So they selected this group that was clearly not organic either, they showed they can drip them, by the dozens, and then when Finland raises it to the political level, the Russians showed they can stop it right away. “

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Finnish authorities quickly caught on to the Russian tactic and found that more than half of the migrants who applied for asylum had lived legally in Russia for five to 10 years and came from almost 40 countries. It was not the same pattern of asylum seekers arriving in other parts of Europe at the time and coming mainly from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Faced with the specter of potentially tens or hundreds of thousands more migrants arriving from Russia, the Finnish government quickly surrendered to Russian demands and signed a six-month agreement that would allow two popular border posts to be reserved just for Finns, Russians and Belarusians. . citizens and their families.

The Russians had flexed their muscles, showed what they could potentially do, and reached an agreement.

Once the deal was signed, the migrants stopped arriving and the incident ended.

Can Finland build a border fence with Russia?

While the Sanna Marin government will likely survive a no-confidence vote, which has yet to be scheduled, they have yet to decide what to do with the border.

Following Russia’s 2016 migration strategy, Helsinki became the site of the European Center of Excellence to Counter Hybrid Threats.

And while a lot of work was done to highlight progress on issues like media literacy and fighting disinformation, this or previous Finnish governments did little political work to be able to react effectively to future hybrid threats at the border.

Things did not improve last week when both the interior minister and the foreign minister first suggested that Finland’s borders would always be open to asylum seekers, in accordance with international obligations, and then fell back one day. after.

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The long-stalled issue has suddenly become a useful political tool for the opposition to attack the government.

So what else can be done in practical terms? Kai Mykkänen of Kokoomus has also called for a border fence to be built, although in practice that would be extremely difficult through the dense forest terrain along much of the border, not only in terms of construction costs but also in terms of hand. work to patrol and maintain it.

The head of Finland’s border guard force, Pasi Kostamovaara, dismissed the idea in an interview with a newspaper on Tuesday, saying sufficient border surveillance measures already exist.

However, some border guard officials have raised the possibility of extending or reinforcing physical barriers at key crossings if necessary for security reasons, and Kostamovaara says he would like to see some special provisions drafted into new preparedness laws. for emergencies that would allow them to close borders. to asylum seekers in exceptional circumstances, exactly what the opposition is asking for.

“It is up to legislators and legislators to assess this,” he told Helsingin Sanomat diplomatically.

“Our cooperation across the border is going well and we have no reason to assume that the situation will change at this time. But of course we must always be prepared for the worst. “


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