December 11. 2023. 11:02

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The Brief – The bicycle migrants

Finland has identified a surge in asylum-seekers from Russia and has taken measures to curb it by closing four of the nine border crossing points along its 1,340 km-long frontier with its big eastern neighbour.

Most migrants arrived on bicycles, many of which were the Russian brand Stels.

For journalists who reported on the migrant crisis of 2015, this triggered a sense of déjà vu.

At that time, Norway reported the unusual arrival of thousands of migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and other countries, who made a long detour through the far north to cross the border between Russia and Norway, which is part of the EU’s Schengen agreement on free movement even though it is not a member of the EU.

Those migrants came to Norway from Russia via the ‘Arctic route on bicycles, most of them children’s bikes of the same make. Once migrants passed the border, they simply abandoned the bicycles, leaving them piled up in the Arctic wastelands of Norway.

At that time, Crimea was already annexed by Russia, and Norway was the only NATO country with which Russia had a land border, which is tiny compared to the Russia-Finland border.

At that time, pointing out that Finland had received almost no migrants via Russia, Oslo asked Moscow for an explanation. Of course, it did not receive a satisfactory response.

Now that Finland is a NATO member, Russia’s rationale, even though unsaid, is plain to see. The West is starting to learn about the Russian hybrid warfare tactics, coupled with “plausible denial”.

How is it possible that all of a sudden, thousands of migrants from distant destinations arrive in Russia with plans to cross to the West via a northern route?

In the case of the massive migrant border crossings from Belarus to Poland, Latvia and Lithuania in 2021, it became clear that Russia was organising flights from the Middle East to Moscow and then pushed these people to the Belarus border to destabilise the West.

The migrants arriving at the Finnish border today are being “escorted and transported”, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said.

“It seems that this is enabled by the Russian authorities because the procedure deviates from what are the agreed practices at the border,” Orpo was quoted as saying.

The agreed procedures were the result of both sides’ interest in having border crossings operating normally to facilitate trade and human contact.

Along the Russia-Finland frontier, there is first a Russian border crossing point, then a buffer territory, and then a Finnish border crossing. Until recently, Russia didn’t allow people without Schengen visas to pass their border crossing point.

However, the Syrians, Afghans, and others arriving at the Finnish border today have no such visa, but they are allowed to cross over, at least as far as Russia is concerned.

Another important detail is that Russia, by law, does not allow pedestrians to cross the border on foot — hence the bicycles – which also generates some extra income for the traffickers of human beings.

Compared to 2015, there is also another novelty — first-class migrants who don’t want to pedal across are apparently willing to pay more to cross the border on electric scooters.

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The Roundup

Green EU lawmaker Ernest Urtasún has joined Spain’s new government as the minister of culture and The Left’s MEP Sira Rego will be the new minister for youth and children, the new-old Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Monday.

The EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen has become the fourth commissioner to leave her post and focus on national politics as she announced her candidacy for the Finnish Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidency, despite polls showing little chance of victory.

Hungary’s ruling party unveiled billboards vilifying European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on Monday, the first time it has made her a personal target in a campaign similar to one against her predecessor that angered Brussels.

Germany is providing fresh money to Africa as part of advancing the continent’s green energy transition, building on a more consistent engagement strategy of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government.

From technological dependency to a lack of skills, Europe’s digital SMEs face an uphill challenge in driving the EU’s digital sovereignty agenda.

Fake news about vaccines, mistrust, and refusal of immunisation by parents, teachers, and the whole society led to a drastic drop in HPV immunisation coverage among girls in recent years, an investigation by Euractiv Bulgaria found.

The Netherlands is taking part in a pilot project for the online publication of drug information, together with three other EU countries. Coordinated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the programme has just released the electronic product information (ePI) for the first seven medicines out of 25.

Following the publication of the new European Cancer Manifesto, EU lawmakers and stakeholders have driven home the importance of improving prevention and screening policies across Europe.

The dispute is growing over transferable vouchers for developers of novel antimicrobial products, proposed by the European Commission in the EU pharma package, but Prague is particularly concerned about the potential impact on national health systems.

Despite EU funding, the digitalisation of healthcare in the Czech Republic is delayed and critical components are still missing, resulting in local doctors being unable to obtain information about patients in urgent situations, the National Audit Office has warned.

Look out for…

  • Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas meets with a delegation of French regional préfets in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
  • Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi participates in conference dedicated to combatting antisemitism through education.
  • Parliament debates humanitarian situation in Gaza on Wednesday.
  • Foreign Affairs Council (Development) meets in Brussels on Tuesday.

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