The Finnish authorities’ claim that the Kremlin orchestrated refugee raids on its borders is a serious accusation that requires proof. Fontanka spent two days looking for them in chat rooms, where hundreds of Arabic-speaking people discuss emigrating to Finland through Russia.
The number of refugees whom Finnish border services have officially registered with them since the beginning of the crisis is just over 400 people. This is two orders of magnitude less than the number of people who want to repeat this path, despite the fact that it has become much longer and more difficult. In specialized chats where Arabic-speaking young people discuss the strategy and tactics of such throws, there are thousands of people and even more who are looking for information on their own.
Having made sure that refugees were definitely transported to the border in Russian cars and then provided with bicycles, the Fontanka correspondent spent several days watching the Arabs communicate in their chats, trying to understand how this system works.
The first thing that catches your eye is that the vast majority of people are at a loss and are trying to find at least some grains of information about what awaits them on the way to Finland and how it can be made easier. It’s worth noting right away that people with some kind of financial cushion communicate in these chats. Without any money, no one even tries. The list of mandatory expenses includes obtaining a Russian visa, a ticket to Moscow or Minsk, and a transfer to St. Petersburg. That’s thousands of euros per person.
There is no way to enter Russia illegally, especially by plane. So when Russian border guards say that all migrants leaving for Finland show completely legal documents, they are not lying. Another thing is that many Syrians, Yemenis, and Iraqis have already expired Russian visas. The most standard period for which they are given is 30 days. During this time, it is not easy for a person who does not speak Russian and understands nothing about migration legislation to find his way. An overstayed visa is an administrative offense, a temporary detention center, a trial, a fine and deportation.
Fontanka asked an Arab lawyer, who advises his fellow countrymen in one of the chats, whether he sees signs of a planned action by the Russian authorities to transport refugees to Finland. “I want to tell you that the Russian authorities have detained many people and returned them from the outskirts of St. Petersburg, and have also arrested those who do not have a valid visa to stay in the Russian Federation, including women and children,” was the response.
Who he is, where he comes from and why he offers his services is unknown. But the legal advice from “experienced” people on forums looks something like this: “You enter Finland and ask for asylum. After the trial you will receive a refusal. File an appeal. You will most likely be refused again, but you will end up in the country and live there for at least a year until you receive a final refusal. During this period you try to resolve your situation.”
The question is also being actively discussed – whether it makes sense to throw away your passport after crossing the Russian border and come to the Finns without documents. Syrians are perplexed – what’s the point if you have legal documents? But the answer puts everything in its place – this step is relevant for Moroccans, who do not have any war in the country, and therefore they will definitely be denied asylum. Otherwise, there is a chance to say that you are also Syrian, you just lost your passport. Next, one might assume, the Finnish media will talk about how Russian border guards let a person cross the border without any documents at all.
Complaints against the Russian police are now coming en masse from the Kostomuksha area, where the Finns have left the Vartius checkpoint, which is now the closest to St. Petersburg, open.
“My brother, the Russians are in a bad mood. They didn’t allow me to go to them,” says one of those who “tried.”
“In short, refugees are a burden for both countries,” writes another astutely.
“The young people who moved yesterday were brought back by the Russians from the Sally area, and they were in the car,” this is a report on the next operating checkpoint after Kostomuksha.
“Until now, I have not heard of anyone with an expired Russian visa crossing the border from a Russian point to a Finnish one. Most of those crossing the border have not yet expired Russian visas. Please note that forty people were arrested for violating a Russian visa at the Vartius point,” notes one of the chat participants.
“After all these numerous incidents that happen to people with overstayed visas (I know about nine people at the moment), I would be a fool to take the risk because on the road you will inevitably be stopped and caught, unlike when was in the first two days when there weren’t many patrols,” says another.
One of the key terms in the chat is “مهرب”, “Mukharib”. Google Translate ominously translates this as “human trafficker.” A Syrian we know explains: we are talking about an intermediary who helps refugees get to Europe. They speak about such people with hostility, they promise that they will definitely deceive you, take your money, and not provide a service. But everyone is looking to connect with them and talk about their experiences.
“Guys, the first question is why so few people came to Finland, that is, a week ago, according to official data, about 250 people were allowed through. I know that each “muharib” sent about 6-7 cars a day, that is, about 25 people or more, and you know how many smugglers and middlemen there are, about 100 people left Minsk every day for a week. “Where have the rest of the people gone?” asks one of the chat participants. “I know a lot of people who went with the Muharibs, and I also went on the 15th. Five cars were traveling with us in one day, but two cars were stopped by the police, and those who were in them are now in custody in Russia.”
“Guys, we are from Karelia, in St. Petersburg, from the Salla border crossing. If someone is on the same road, turn around and go back. Those who stand there are not ordinary police officers – the FSB. I’m Egyptian and we had two Syrians with us whose visas had expired. They literally told us: don’t spoil relations between the two countries,” the unfortunate refugee grieves.
In other words, to claim that the Russian authorities are deliberately bringing refugees to the border in order to “destabilize” Finland can only be assumed that all chats with thousands of subscribers and tens of thousands of messages are faked by some cunning and very hard-working Russian intelligence service.
Fontanka tried to check whether this path still works with the Muharibs. The figure of 2000–3000 euros appeared in discussions among chat participants. This is how much it supposedly costs to get to Finland with the help of such intermediaries. Through experience, we managed to find out that we are talking about a “package” service: an invitation from Russia (this is done by travel agencies for a hotel reservation), a plane ticket to Minsk or Moscow, a road to St. Petersburg and a drop off closer to the border. Moreover, this figure obviously did not include a bicycle, which had to be purchased separately from vans in the Vyborg area, and was valid only as long as the three checkpoints closest to St. Petersburg were open.
It was not easy to communicate with “our” “muharib”. Judging by his phone number, his SIM card is Polish. The profile photo shows an old black Opel with European Union license plates. He doesn’t speak English or Russian; he obviously uses Arabic, like us, through Google Translator. As the conversation progressed, it became clear that he was actually a Turk.
At the beginning of the conversation we talked about 700 euros per person. Or 2800 for four – in a full car. For this money, he promised to take us to the Salla checkpoint. This is very far – from the Murmansk highway you have to turn off at Kandalaksha, and then another 170 km along, to put it mildly, a not very good road to the west. This is the furthest of the checkpoints on the border with Finland that have continued to operate, the most “wild” and has not yet brought sad news about the turn of refugees.
As the conversation progressed, the price dropped to 450 euros per person. However, despite the European numbers, he plans to land refugees on Russian territory, and he does not say how far from the border: “Depending on the situation.” It can be assumed that we are talking about the vicinity of the village of Kuolojärvi in the Murmansk region, where a border post is located 10 kilometers before the checkpoint. Just a minute, it’s -21°C right now. In response to a request for a ride to the checkpoint itself for additional money – because we are afraid that he will drop us off in a deep forest and we will freeze to death there, the “muharib” reached into the bottle, saying that we should trust his moral qualities and in general We insult him with such suspicions. In short, we didn’t agree.
Ultimately, we were never able to find traces of a system of guaranteed delivery of refugees to the Finnish border coordinated from one center. If there is one, then it works very poorly, giving no guarantee of reaching the goal. No evidence that the Russian authorities are allegedly deliberately pushing refugees into Finland has emerged after several days of communication with Arab travelers. But we have to admit that there really is a business serving refugees, and its turnover is considerable.
An acquaintance from Syria told the editors that people from the Maghreb countries are actually occupying the borders of the European Union – not only the Finnish borders.
“Our salary in Syria is on average 150-200 thousand pounds (about 7 thousand rubles). To support a family, you need one and a half to two million, that is, ten times more. Therefore, young people flee to Europe to work there and earn money,” says the man. He also does not believe that the Russian authorities are deliberately “driving” his compatriots to Finland: “They kept my friend at the Moscow airport for six hours to check whether he was fleeing to Europe or just going to visit Russia.”
Studied Arabic Denis Lebedev, Fontanka.ru