AFP – Collectors with a penchant for old Soviet cars will head to the Arctic this weekend where the Finnish customs will auction dozens of cars abandoned by migrants crossing over from Russia.
The 128 cars, mostly Soviet-era Ladas or Volgas in poor condition, will be auctioned on Friday and Saturday in Salla, about 900 kilometres (560 miles) north of Helsinki.
Between December and March, more than 1,700 asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria, crossed the border in clunkers they had bought in Russia to get into Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone through two of Finland’s northern entry points in the Arctic.
Despite the winter temperatures plunging as low as -30 Celsius (-22 Fahrenheit) in the region, some migrants considered the Arctic route to Europe safer than the more perilous Mediterranean crossings in risky boats.
“These are abandoned vehicles that were handed over to the state, 128 pieces. Asylum seekers who arrived via Russia abandoned or handed them over,” chief inspector Kari Hannu told AFP on Monday.
Hannu said the auction had already attracted “considerable attention”.
Migrants were crossing the Finnish-Russian border on bicycles until December, because foot crossings were prohibited and being transported by someone else in a vehicle constituted trafficking.
But when Finnish authorities barred cycle crossings for safety reasons, migrants had no choice but to shell out over 1,000 euros ($1,105) for old rusty cars they abandoned in Finland.
Eventually in March the Arctic route was blocked when Finland and Russia announced an agreement to close two of their northern border crossings to migrants.