Finland to test drones on Russian border as migrant flow grows

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland plans to test drones along its frontier with Russia, an official said on Monday, as a growing number of migrants crosses that northern border of the European Union's Schengen passport-free travel zone.

Major Jussi Napola of the Finnish border guard declined to say why Helsinki wanted to run the tests along the 833-mile (1,340 km) border, where migrant movements have grown to become an issue at high-level bilateral meetings.

Finland last month criticized its eastern neighbor and former ruler for allowing increasing numbers of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa across their Arctic border.

Following ministerial meetings, the countries agreed to step up cooperation on the border.

According to the Finnish border guard, about 500 asylum seekers have come from Russia to Finland this year, compared with about 700 in the whole of 2015.

"The plan is to test the remote piloted aerial system in operational use at the Russian border and the coastal areas. We want to see if the technology suits our needs and if it is suitable for Finnish conditions", Napola told Reuters.

The European Union is already using drones to help monitor the flow of migrants and refugees over the Mediterranean and Napola said the border guard has worked with the EU border agency Frontex in reviewing different drone options.

"The development of the technology has turned this into a viable, and possibly cost effective option for us. Our target now is to get more experience of their operational capabilities," he said.

(Reporting by Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Jussi Rosendahl and Tom Heneghan)