HELSINKI (Reuters) - Russia and Finland agreed on Tuesday to impose temporary restrictions at two Arctic border crossing points following an increased flow of asylum seekers 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 organized 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 asylum seekers entered Finland from Russia in the first two months of 2016, up from about 700 in the whole of 2015, although the flow of migrants has halted this month after an improvement in bilateral border cooperation.
The Finnish government has said many of the migrants in question were Afghans or Indians and were not escaping war or persecution, and some had lived in Russia a long time.
The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding to increase the sharing of information on immigration.
Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Gareth Jones