Finland has auctioned off scores of rundown vintage Soviet-era cars abandoned by asylum seekers who used them to cross the country’s Arctic border from Russia.
Last year, Finland’s 835-mile (1,340km) frontier with Russia – one of the external limits of the European Union’s passport-free Schengen travel zone – became the northern-most crossing point to the EU for migrants from Africa and the Middle East who wanted to avoid the dangerous Mediterranean sea route to the continent.
At first, most migrants entered Finland from Russia on bicycles. But after Finland banned bicycle crossings in December, and the sub-zero winter freeze set in, asylum seekers bought old Soviet cars in Russia and drove them to the border.
On Friday, Soviet-era Volgas and a rusty 1970s Lada station wagon were the main attractions at a vintage car auction held in Salla, a northern town 12 miles from the border.
Finnish customs officials put more than 100 Soviet-era cars on the auction block after they were left behind by asylum seekers. The Volgas fetched prices up to €640 (£535) and the Lada estate car, with now-rare circular headlights, was picked up by a Finnish collector for €280.
“There’s rust and a few dents on them, but mechanically they’ll last forever. And it’s very easy to find spare parts,” Rauno Halttunen, a retired mechanic and Soviet-car enthusiast, told Reuters by phone from Salla.
“Most of the cars were registered 30 to 40 years ago in Finland, and then sold to Russia in the 1990s. Now they’ve made their way back,” the auction organiser, Asko Viitanen, said.
Prices for classic Soviet models began at €120, while “newer” Russian models from the 1990s, after the Soviet Union broke up, and a few German cars of the same vintage were snatched up for a few euros each.
Early this year, Finland criticised its giant eastern neighbour and tsarist-era ruler for allowing increasing numbers of asylum seekers with no Finnish visas to cross their Arctic border, and held high-level meetings with Moscow.
Helsinki worried it could become an ever more popular route into the EU for migrants as the summer approached and the main Balkan route via Turkey and Greece became harder to access.
A further 1,000 asylum seekers entered Finland from Russia in the first two months of 2016 before the countries agreed on tighter border zone security.