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Finland’s Border Closures: A Winter of Discontent for Migrants and a Test of International Law

The closure of all border crossings between Finland and Russia has raised concerns within the Council of Europe, particularly regarding the potential plight of migrants left vulnerable in harsh winter conditions.

Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized the critical need for Helsinki to uphold the rights of asylum-seekers despite the border closures. She stressed Finland’s responsibilities under international law in a letter to the Interior Ministry, expressing worry that the complete shutdown of the Eastern land border might hinder legitimate access for asylum claims. Mijatovic cautioned against violations of the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsion, highlighting the risks faced by migrants if forcibly returned to regions where they might encounter persecution or danger.

Concerns were amplified by deteriorating weather conditions that pose significant risks to the health and lives of migrants. MIjatovic urged the Finnish government to outline its plans for safeguarding the “extremely vulnerable” individuals during the winter months.

The decision to close the last remaining border crossing came after the closure of seven other checkpoints due to a surge in asylum-seekers. Finnish authorities alleged Moscow’s involvement in deliberately channeling migrants towards the border, attributing it to a strategy aiming to destabilize the country. However, the Kremlin refuted these allegations as groundless.

During these closures, asylum-seekers were redirected to seaports and airports for processing. Poland offered to deploy a team of “military advisors” to the border area, proposing expertise in border security. While Finland claimed to be unaware of this offer, the Kremlin cautioned against any military presence along the RUssian border, deeming it an unjustifiable concentration of military units.

The context of Finland’s recent inclusion in the US-led NATO alliance, deviating from its longstanding neutrality, further complicates the situation. Russia, while stating that Finland doesn’t pose a direct threat, has vowed to respond to any actions that compromise its security.

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