Norway’s immigration authorities have expelled 600 asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa and other countries, who arrived in the Scandinavian kingdom via the border with Russia, this autumn. Tor Espen Haga, a spokesman for the Norwegian police immigration service, told the Norwegian News Agency on Monday that all of them had legal grounds for a long-term sojourn in Russia.
Back and Forth
According to Haga, the asylum seekers are returning to Russia the same way they got into Norway. Groups of asylum seekers accommodated in temporary shelters dispersed across Norway are formed prior to being sent to Kirkenes, located 8 kilometres away from the Norwegian-Russian border from where buses take them to the Storskog-Borisoglebsk border crossing point. The migrants cross the border on bicycles because the Storskog-Borisoglebsk checkpoint is an automobile border crossing, which can be crossed only by using any mode of transport. The Russian border authorities, in turn, are dispatching the returning migrants to Nikel village (the Murmansk region) or Murmansk.
“Russia is accepting everybody who legally stayed in Russia prior to moving to live in Norway. The Russians are acting absolutely the same way as the Norwegian border authorities,” Haga said.
Until recently, the Norwegian side has loudly insisted that persons, who had used tourist and guest visas to leave Russia, reach the Norwegian border and seek an asylum in the Scandinavian kingdom or those who had tried to become refugees in Norway having been ordered to leave Russia should be returned to Russia. The two countries’ representatives continue discussing the problem. They have different interpretations of the 2007 bilateral inter-governmental agreement on readmission. However, Haga said, the Norwegian authorities no longer seek to return migrants with expired Russian visas to Russia.
The Arctic Route
According to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, 5,500 asylum seekers have entered Norway since August this year by using the so-called “Arctic route” lying via Moscow, Murmansk and Nikel village. Up to a thousand refugees, predominantly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, entered Norway’s polar Finnmark province from Russia’s northern Murmansk region daily in October-November 2015. Late in November, the Norwegian Justice Ministry instructed the Directorate of Immigration to give serious consideration to asylum applications from migrants who were arriving from the territory of neighbouring Russia.
Both Norwegian and Russian border guards started subjecting the identity papers of all people who were approaching the state border to more rigid and scrutinizing checks. They also notified them that they were unlikely to get an asylum in Norway.
The Norwegian authorities believe that those innovations helped halting the refugee flows, which Norway’s little-populated northern regions were unable to cope with.
Border guards at the Storskog border station have not registered a single asylum seeker since November 30.