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Finland and Russia finalize temporary border restrictions

Russia and Finland have agreed to impose temporary restrictions at two Arctic border crossing points. The move follows an increased influx of asylum seekers from Russia to Finland earlier this year.

Russian-Finnish border

Under the deal reached by Russian Presidents Vladimir Putin and his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto on Tuesday, crossings at two popular entry points to Finland - Salla and Raja-Jooseppi - will be reserved only for Finnish, Russian and Belarusian citizens and their family members for a period of 180 days.

"The aim of this restriction is to prevent organized illegal immigration. According to EU commitments, Finland aims to prevent the emergence of new routes for illegal immigration," the Finnish president's office said in a statement on Tuesday.

The 1,340 kilometer (833-mile) Finnish-Russian border marks an external periphery of the European Union's (EU) passport-free Schengen zone.

Syrian refugees at Russian-Finnish border

1,000 asylum seekers crossed the border in the first two months of 2016

As the weather improves and the main Balkan route via Turkey and Greece becomes increasingly harder for migrants to access, Helsinki has expressed concerns that Finland's border to Russia could become a more popular route into the EU.

New Year's influx

Some 1,000 asylum seekers crossed the border from Russia to Finland in January and February alone - a huge increase on 2015, which saw the arrival of 700 refugees across the entire year.

According to the Finnish government, many of the migrants crossing the Arctic border were Afghans or Indians and were not escaping war or persecution. Some had lived in Russia a long time, Helsinki said. Numbers have decreased over the last month, however, as a result of improved bilateral border cooperation.

Russia and Finland also signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday to increase the sharing of information on immigration.

ksb/jil (Reuters, dpa)

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