Finnish Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö told a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers last Wednesday that an escalation of the number of asylum seekers crossing into Finland from Russia is one of his country’s greatest challenges.
“The illegal migration via the eastern border is undeniably our most serious challenge,” said Niinistö of the growing problem.
Niinistö acknowledged that the number has thus far been low, but the ongoing stream could become a much wider problem.
“In practice the potential is limitless. From hundreds of thousands to a million people, who are ready to move out of Russia. In that sense the situation is worrying. Not just for Finland but for other European countries,” he said.
Although Niinistö does not see a role for NATO to settle the issue, he said that the problem could become pan-European if the problem spreads beyond Finland’s borders.
According to the Finnish Border Guard, 504 people have crossed into Finnish Lapland from Russia seeking asylum in the first month of 2106. In 2015, the number of asylum seekers entering the country from Russia at crossing points on the north-eastern border totalled slightly fewer than 700 for the entire of the year.
The Finnish Border Guard is currently investigating around 100 cases of organized criminal activity related to human smuggling from Russia.
“In these cases we suspect any foreigner who drives a vehicle that brings or tries to bring into Finland any foreigner who lacks a passport or other travel document necessary for entering the country, or anyone who arranges or provides such a foreigner transport to Finland,” said Pasi Iittiläinen of the Lapland Border Guard.