Finland, Russia agree to increase Arctic border restrictions

Finland, Russia to temporarily increase border restrictions at two points in Arctic amid influx of refugee crossings

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto during a joint news conference following their talks at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, March 22, 2016.

Russia and Finland agreed on Tuesday to impose temporary restrictions at two Arctic border crossing points following an increased flow of refugees from Russia to Finland earlier this year.

Under a deal clinched by Presidents Vladimir Putin and Sauli Niinisto in Moscow, crossings at two popular entry points, Salla and Raja-Jooseppi, will be reserved only for Finnish, Russian and Belarusian citizens and their family members for a period of 180 days.

"The aim of this restriction is to prevent organised illegal immigration. According to EU commitments, Finland aims to prevent the emergence of new routes for illegal immigration," the Finnish president's office said in a statement.

Finland's 833-mile (1,340 km) border with Russia marks an external limit of the European Union's passport-free Schengen area. Helsinki has been worried it could become a more popular route into the EU for migrants as the weather improves and the main Balkan route via Turkey and Greece gets harder to access.

Close to 1,000 refugees entered Finland from Russia in the first two months of 2016, up from about 700 in the whole of 2015, although the flow of refugees has halted this month after an improvement in bilateral border cooperation.

The Finnish government has said many of the refugees in question were Afghans or Indians, some of whom had lived in Russia for a long time.

The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding to increase the sharing of information on immigration.

TRTWorld, Reuters