Finland weighs reopening Russian border to deport asylum seekers

Prime Minister Sanna Marin said authorities will debate emergency legislation this week that would allow asylum applicants to be turned away at the Finnish-Russian frontier.

Finland is considering a controversial measure that could see part of its border with Russia reopened in order to deport asylum seekers back to the country they fled, according to statements from the prime minister.

Speaking to Finnish media over the weekend, Prime Minister Sanna Marin said authorities will debate emergency legislation this week that would allow asylum applicants to be turned away at the Finnish-Russian frontier. The bill stipulates that those denied asylum would remain in transit zones or detention centres near the border until they can be deported back into Russia.

Marin claimed there are “thousands” of asylum seekers currently amassed on the Russian side waiting to cross into Finland. Enabling their deportation, she argued, could help control a potential new influx of arrivals as Finland shores up border security following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Human rights groups swiftly condemned the potential policy as violating international refugee conventions which prevent sending asylum seekers back to their countries if their safety may be at risk there. Amnesty International called on Finnish lawmakers to reject the “draconian” legislation.

However, officials in Helsinki seem concerned over security risks, pointing to a recent uptick in illegal Russian border crossings following Moscow’s mobilization efforts for its Ukraine offensive. Both Finland and Sweden also dropped longstanding military neutrality last year to apply for NATO membership, a process currently facing objections from Turkey and Hungary.

While only around 1,500 Russians have claimed asylum in Finland so far this year, there are fears new economic and political turmoil driven by Russia’s war could trigger an exodus. Finland says Russia has not honoured its readmission obligations to take back its own citizens legally deported from Finland.

The asylum seeker issue is expected to spark heated debate in the Finnish parliament, where legislators will weigh border control priorities against humanitarian responsibilities. A vote on the border transit legislation is expected later this week.

For now, the 1,340-kilometer (833-mile) Finnish-Russian border remains largely closed except for a few official crossings. Helsinki says talks are underway with Moscow about reopening the Vaalimaa entry point specifically to process asylum seekers – and potentially send them back across.