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Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo has accused Russia of aiding migrants in entering Finland illegally, alleging that some have received assistance from Russian border guards. The number of unauthorized crossings has increased this week, with around 89 incidents recorded in two days, compared to 91 in the preceding four months. Finnish officials reveal that migrants, including individuals from Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, are arriving legally in Russia but lack authorization to enter Finland, an EU member state.

Colonel Matti Pitkaniitty of the Finnish border guard noted a change in Russian policy, asserting that Russian guards traditionally prevented people without proper documents from reaching the Finnish border. The migrants are exploiting an agreement allowing cycling across the border, prompting Finland to recently ban bicycle crossings. Most activity is concentrated around the Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa border crossings in south-eastern Finland. Prime Minister Orpo claimed that Russian authorities are facilitating these illegal crossings, emphasizing the assistance provided by border guards.

In 2021, a significant number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa entered EU member states Poland and Lithuania by flying to Belarus, a close Russian ally. The EU accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of using migration as a tool of “hybrid warfare” to destabilize the bloc. Colonel Pitkaniitty, while acknowledging the manageable current numbers, stated that Finnish authorities are prepared to react if crossings increase.

Interior Minister Mari Rantanen announced plans to enhance border security, emphasizing the government’s commitment to addressing the situation. Colonel Pitkaniitty noted that the route into the EU via Russia is considered safer than other options, such as crossing the Mediterranean by sea. He expressed concern that word of this route’s safety might attract more migrants, potentially leading to a rapid increase in numbers, emphasizing the unpredictability of when the opportunity might end.

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During a visit to the southern French city of Marseille, Pope Francis urged European nations to display increased tolerance towards migrants. Speaking at a gathering of bishops and young people from Mediterranean countries, the Pope emphasized that those risking their lives at sea should not be seen as invaders.

French President Emmanuel Macron was present during his address. The call comes amidst renewed debate on migration following mass arrivals on Italy’s Lampedusa island last week. Pope Francis stressed that migration is not an emergency but a reality that requires a wise and European response.

He also advocated for legal and regular entry routes for migrants, particularly those fleeing war, hunger, and poverty, emphasizing the duty of humanity to rescue those attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

The Pope’s visit to Marseille marked the first by a pope to the city in 500 years and included discussions on migration, economic inequality, and climate change.

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Wildfires in Greece have tragically led to the loss of 20 lives and are still raging out of control near Athens and the Evros region close to the Turkish border. Among those killed, 18 are believed to be refugees and migrants who had recently crossed the border and sought refuge in forests north of Alexandroupolis. Greece has expressed deep condolences for the deaths occurring in the Dadia forest near the Turkish border. The fires have been ongoing for five days and have extended along the coast and near the city. Efforts to contain the fires are being hampered by strong winds and scorching temperatures of up to 40°C (104°F).

The victims’ bodies were discovered near a shack close to the village of Avantas, north of Alexandroupolis, by the fire service. The fire service and local authorities had issued evacuation warnings through emergency services. The victims are believed to have recently crossed the border from Turkey along the River Evros, which is a common route for migrants and refugees attempting to enter the European Union. The risk of wildfires adds to the many dangers migrants and refugees face in their journey, including violence, arrest, and drowning in the Mediterranean.

The victims are predominantly male, with two of them being minors. The bodies were found within a relatively small radius, and their identification is expected to be challenging, necessitating the involvement of their relatives. Some individuals had been attempting to follow a well-established path through the forest to avoid detection.

Tensions have arisen in the local communities as some residents blame migrants for causing the fires. However, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that migrants were responsible for starting the Dadia forest fire. A video showing a man “arresting” migrants and refugees and accusing them of arson provoked outrage in Greece, leading to the arrest of the man behind the video and others involved.

In response to the tragic events, the Supreme Court Prosecutor initiated inquiries into both the causes of the fires in the Evros region and incidents of alleged racist violence against migrants following the deaths in the Dadia forest.

As the fires continue to spread, evacuations have been conducted in various areas, including villages near Alexandroupolis and parts of the capital city, Athens. The situation remains challenging for firefighters, compounded by the evacuation of nursing homes and the destruction of homes in some areas.

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Survivors of the migrant boat tragedy off Greece’s coast accuse the Greek coastguard of causing the sinking of the overcrowded fishing vessel. The incident, which occurred on June 14, is considered one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent Mediterranean history, with an estimated 750 people on board, mainly from Pakistan, Syria, and Egypt.

Of the total, 104 individuals survived, while 82 bodies have been recovered. The identities of the four survivors who spoke to the BBC have been verified through multiple sources, but they have chosen to remain anonymous for their safety.

The survivors, some of whom are being held at the Malakasa refugee reception center, alleged that the Greek coastguard was towing the boat when it sank in a deep area of the Mediterranean, approximately 80km (50 miles) off the Greek coast. The Greek authorities have denied these claims, stating that when they attempted to secure the vessel with a rope to assess the situation, some individuals on board resisted, expressing their desire to continue the journey to Italy.

The survivors reported being pressured by Greek officials not to speak to the media about the incident or to blame the Greek coastguard. The Greek authorities declined to comment, citing an ongoing official investigation into the sinking.

The German NGO Sea-Watch, which conducts rescue operations in the Mediterranean, commented that towing an old vessel with a large number of people under such conditions is a risky endeavor and likely to result in a disaster. The survivors also disputed the allegations against the nine Egyptians accused of people trafficking, stating that they were passengers, not smugglers.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for urgent action to prevent further deaths at sea, emphasizing the importance of search and rescue operations and the establishment of safe regular pathways in the Mediterranean. According to UNHCR figures, approximately 80,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to reach EU states this year, with an estimated 1,200 deaths or disappearances during the journey.

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