(MENAFN) In a poignant display of unity and frustration, several hundred residents of Lappeenranta, a Finnish town bordering Russia, gathered outside city hall on Sunday to voice their objections to the recent closure of border checkpoints by the Helsinki government. The protest, attended by an estimated 200-300 people, comes in response to the shutdown of three key border crossings – Vaalimaa, Nuijamaa, and Imatra – that has left the community's approximately 72,000 residents unable to connect with their loved ones on the Russian side.
Organizers, such as Katja Marova, emphasized the shared sorrow and challenges faced by the community, stating, "We have the right to family ties. It is very cruel to make such a decision before Christmas. Almost everyone had plans to spend Christmas with loved ones. This feels like an attack." The closures have disrupted the lives of residents who now find themselves separated from family members living in Russia.
Finland's decision to close four of its eight checkpoints was attributed to a reported "surge" in Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni asylum-seekers entering from the Russian side. A recent incident on Friday, where Finnish border guards used gas on a group of about a dozen migrants, added to the controversy surrounding the border closure.
Defense Minister Antti Hakkanen asserted that Russia is leveraging refugees to "accelerate the migrant crisis in Europe and destabilize its unity." These allegations, however, have been firmly rejected by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as "completely baseless."
The situation has escalated to the extent that Finnish Finance Minister and Deputy PM Riikka Purra hinted at further measures, stating that the closure of the four crossings was just the initial step. She indicated that Helsinki might consider closing the entire border if the flow of migrants from the Russian side persisted.
As tensions rise and the border closure continues to impact the lives of residents, the controversy raises questions about the broader implications for regional relations, the humanitarian considerations of border policies, and the potential escalation of the migrant crisis in Europe.
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