Yesterday I wrote a short blog on asylum seeker routes. The thing that piqued my interest was the statement by EASO director Robert Visser, who stated in Dutch newspaper Trouw, that “Since a few weeks, Finland gets remarkable amounts of asylum seekers [through Russia]”.
In Finland, reports are focused on Tornio, which is situated between Sweden and Finland at the end of the Gulf of Bothnia. So far, I have heard little about border crossings at the Salla or Raja-Jooseppi stations. This article states that this year, so far, only 12 asylum seekers have crossed the border in Raja-Jooseppi (in Northern Lapland) although the authors are wondering whether the situation would develop like in Norway (Storskog).
So this means that EASO has more information, or that they are simply wrong.
But suppose the informed estimate is correct and asylum seekers are travelling through Russia to Finland (or Norway), what questions does that raise for Finnish foreign policy? (I leave aside the question of probably extremely harsh winter circumstances in Russia).
Given that apparently the Finnish foreign ministry has a campaign in the near Middle East trying to discourage people from coming to Finland, I would think that the Finnish government would not be very happy if large groups of people start arriving in Northern Finland. The question then is: what kind of co-operation is there between Finland and Russia on information sharing regarding asylum seeker movements?
Personally I think current Finnish policy regarding asylum seekers is counter-productive and not just, but that is not relevant for now. Since my guess is that asylum seeker flows will seek the route of least resistance, I suppose that if significant amounts of people start turning up at the border with Russia, Finland may have to adapt its policy regarding Russia, since given the policy of keeping asylum seekers out it would need co-operation on the Russian side.
This would have quite big implications for the EU also. Finland’s economy was kind of sacrificed with the sanctions on Russia, and the conflict between the EU and Russia about Ukraine may have implications for this Syria asylum seeker issue as well. It is not written in stone that Russia will help in this (i.e. trying to stem the flow) unless it can get some kind of lessening of the sanctions.
Although I obviously have no data to back this scenario up, I am sketching a possibility. It may or may not come true, or in another way, but increasingly the crises that the EU faces become interconnected. And as in the past, Finland is again between Russia and the West. I hope and trust that the Foreign Minister and his civil servants have the knowledge and skills to successfully navigate this crisis.