Nordics Ready for Soviet Refugees and Prepare for Worst
HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Scandinavians have plans to quickly erect refugee camps and reinforce their borders if a predicted harsh winter brings a tide of Soviet refugees, officials say.
But the Nordic countries are also readying food aid, with the hope that if the Soviets are well-fed at home, they’ll stay there.
″Our policy is to feed them ... so they don’t have to come across the border at all,″ said Asko Mattila, a Finnish Foreign Ministry official.
″A worst, worst-case scenario, with a great migration, like wolf packs welling over the border ... is not something we regard as possible,″ said Bjorn Blokhus of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.
A legislator in Moscow told Nordic parliamentarians last month that up to 6 million Soviet refugees could head west in search of better living conditions. Soviet officials say they have enough food, but haven’t been able to distribute it properly.
Germany, motivated by wishes for Soviet stability as well as gratitude for President Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s role in German unification, has committed $19.5 billion in aid and credits to Moscow. On Thursday Bonn decided to give the Soviets the $340 million in food and medical supplies that were stockpiled in West Berlin after the 1948-49 Berlin Blockade.
Swedish officials have developed a plan to put up emergency shelters and extra security that could go into effect within 24 hours. It is described as an operation of last resort.
Swedish Immigration Minister Maj-Lis Louw said the way to prevent a flood of economic refugees is to make it clear ahead of time they will not be accepted in Scandinavia, long known for generous asylum laws.
Danish Foreign Minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen said the migration of Soviet and Eastern European citizens could dwarf current refugee problems.
″This problem will place huge demands on our resources,″ he said.
Although neither Denmark nor Sweden border the Soviet Union, refugees could enter by ferry across the Baltic Sea. The recent arrival in Finland of hundreds of Somalis who flew from Africa through Moscow gave Nordic leaders a glimpse of what could happen when the Soviet Union ends travel restrictions on its citizens.
The Norwegian military has announced it is prepared to donate the food, tents and medicines it has stockpiled for war to refugees who might want to cross the 70-mile arctic border with the Soviet Union.
″In a military sense, I don’t think it (a Soviet food shortage) has much significance, unless a civil war breaks out. And of course, that is possible,″ said Dagfinn Danielsen, the northern Norwegian military commander.
Finnish officials deny news reports they plan to build refugee camps or increase guards along the 800-mile border, the longest any Western nation shares with the Soviet Union.
″We don’t even consider it a possibility that thousands of Soviets will rush across our border,″ said Gen. Matti Autio, commander of the border guard.
But the Finns will send thousands of tons of meat and potatoes to the Soviet province of Karelia, which partly belonged to Finland before World War II. The food shipment is a commercial deal, though, not charity.
″I know those people very well. They are very hardy and a mere food shortage is not going to drive them over here,″ said Teuvo Korpelainen, county mayor in Tohmajarvi, 10 miles from the Soviet border.
Forecasts say temperatures may fall below minus 40 degrees this winter in Karelia.
″It’s the cold that will do it, if anything,″ said Korpelainen. ″If they run out of heating oil and the temperature falls to minus 40 degrees, then we’ll see them over here.″
In 1989, Finnish officials issued 65,000 visas to Soviets. More than 200,000 have already been issued this year, because Moscow has eased travel restrictions.
Three new border posts have been temporarily opened, but Autio said the 3,600-man guard force would not be strengthened.
″We can manage with the men we have,″ he said.