By Essi Lehto
HELSINKI (Reuters) -Finland will close its entire border with Russia to travellers for the next two weeks in a bid to halt the unusually large flow of asylum seekers to the Nordic nation, which the government and its allies say is an orchestrated move by Moscow.
Finland last week shut all but one of its border posts to travellers from Russia, keeping open only the northernmost crossing located in the Arctic. But this too would now close, the government said on Tuesday.
Some 900 asylum seekers from nations including Kenya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen have entered Finland from Russia in November, an increase from less than one per day previously, according to the Finnish Border Guard.
The decision to shut all eight border crossings means only cargo trains can pass between the two countries, Finland’s Border Guard said.
Helsinki says Moscow is funnelling people to the border in retaliation for its decision to increase defence cooperation with the United States, a charge the Kremlin denies. Finland infuriated Russia earlier this year when it joined NATO, ending decades of military non-alignment, due to the war in Ukraine.
“This is Russia’s influence operation and we do no accept it,” Prime Minister Petteri Orpo told a press conference.
On Monday he said his country had intelligence information on Russian authorities assisting the asylum seekers and that despite Finnish border closures, there were still more people heading towards Finland in Russia.
On Monday, only three asylum seekers arrived in Finland through the remote Raja-Jooseppi station, the last open border post, and on Tuesday there were no entrants.
The border station will remain open on Wednesday before closing until Dec. 13, the government said.
Finland’s ombudsman for non-discrimination last week said the remote location of Raja-Jooseppi prompted concerns that Helsinki was jeopardising the right to seek asylum.
Asylum can still be sought by travellers arriving by boat and by air, the Finnish government said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Essi Lehto, editing by Terje Solsvik, Anna Ringstrom, Louise Rasmussen, Alexandra Hudson)