Almost five thousand asylum seekers have crossed the Norwegian-Russian border since the European migrant crisis arose. And they still continue to come. The Norwegian government rings the alarm: all the reception centers in Finnmark are overloaded, and now it has been decided to toughen the asylum regulations.
A timeline of the refugee situation at the border
The crisis flared up this September, when the situation in the Middle East became critical. Syrian refugees started to seek shelter in Northern Norway, massively crossing the border from Murmansk Oblast to Finnmark County by bicycles. According to the law, it is forbidden to cross the border by foot. As a result, a big pile of vehicles appeared near the Storskog crossing point, something that has gained much attention in the media.
The NRK reported that, in Russia, the situation has turned into a well-elaborated business: representatives of a special organization meet refugees in Moscow, after which they are brought to Murmansk by train or by plane, then by bus to Nikel, where they finally switch to bicycles. For all of these services the refugees pay around $600.
As the migrants enter Norway, they are brought to a transit reception center, located in the border town of Kirkenes, before they are distributed to various asylum reception centers in Northern Norway. According to NRK, there are currently 13,880 acute places for asylum seekers in Norway, distributed between 85 temporary reception centers. Around thirty of these centers are located in Barents Norway.
According to statistics from Patchwork Barents and the East Finnmark Police District, the migrant flow to Northern Norway began with 215 asylum seekers in September. In October, their number was already nine times as high as in the previous month: 2,018 people crossed the Storskog border crossing point in October. The figure continued to grow further. Only in the first week of November, the police district registered 818 refugees crossing the border.
Also on the Russian side of the border, there was a strained situation. At the beginning of the month, more than two hundred migrants settled in a small hotel in Nikel, called “Severnoye Siyanie” (“Northern Lights”). Since the hotel did not have enough space for two hundred people, many of them had to sleep in halls and corridors, something that started to worry locals, as SeverPost previously reported. The regional administration of Pechenga even posted a warning on their official website about a possibility of terror attacks due to an increased refugee flow. However, the warning eventually disappeared from the website.
A week later, almost all of these migrants had left Nikel and crossed the border to Norway. Only two families were still staying at the hotel, writes B-port with reference to the local government of Pechenga. Currently, it is unclear whether there will be another rush of refugees into Nikel.
Norway adopts stricter asylum regulations
The Norwegian government is very concerned about the situation with refugees in the country. As the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) recently reported to NRK, Norway already spends over 325 million NOK every month on emergency centers for refugees.
Last month, the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg declared that helping asylum seekers could eventually cost Norway up to forty to fifty billion NOK. In addition, it became known that many of those attempting to come to Norway through Murmansk Oblast have already been living in Russia for longer periods, and went to Norway just in search of a better life. The UDI has since been warning about possible deportation of such people.
On October 9, SeverPost reported about the first deported refugee, with reference to its own source of information. After that, the Norwegian media also started to report similar cases. Last Monday, the chief constable of the East Finnmark Police District, Ellen Katrine Hætta, informed NRK that forty people who came to Norway from Russia without a valid Schengen visa were sent back from the border.
Finally, Norway has decided to make asylum regulations stricter as an attempt to reduce the migrant flow. According to information from its official website, the government intends to
“(…) reduce benefits for people living in reception centers by twenty percent; benefits for families with children will be reduced by 10%; change the period of residence to become eligible for permanent residence from 3 to 5 years; issue temporary residence permits and facilitate return if the situation in the country of habitual residence changes; use integration criteria for the granting of applications for permanent residence; limit family reunification and family establishment rights for refugees; collaborate with the Iraqi authorities to establish structures for return to safe areas of Iraq, so that Iraqis and internal refugees in Iraq who have been ordered to leave Norway can be referred for internal flight.”
The government especially warns that Afghans not entitled to residence will be deported.
“Anyone crossing the border into Norway must have a visa. Norway will return people who are not entitled to residence in Norway to their country of habitual residence. Applications that appear likely to be denied will be given priority and fast-tracked. People from safe areas of Afghanistan or who have been granted residence in another country will have their application rejected and will be deported”, says the website.
“People from areas that are not considered safe, may be returned to other parts of Afghanistan. Very many Afghans who have their application rejected will be referred for "internal flight" to Kabul”, the government informs.
In 2014 and 2015, more than five hundred people have been sent back from Norway to Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public security has reportedly “instructed the Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and the Immigration Appeals Board (UNE) to reject applications from asylum seekers arriving in Norway after having resided in Russia, without considering individual cases in depth”.
The instruction came into force this Thursday, although last weeks’ data from the East Finnmark Police District has already shown a considerable decrease in the number of migrants. While the daily figures nearly approached two hundred people in the beginning of November, this week, they went down to twenty-four people.
Seen from the Barents perspective
The refugee crisis has made different impact in the other Barents countries. Sweden, for example, has accepted the largest number of refugees, while Finland the lowest.
Interestingly, the national immigration services in Sweden, Norway and Finland also report considerably different asylum application figures. So far in 2015 (January-November), Sweden has received 112,264 asylum applications, which is thirty-eight percent more than it received in the twelve months of 2014. Norway received 21,946 asylum applications in 2015, while Finland only received 4,453 applications.
At the end of June 2015, the Russian Federal Migration Service reported that the total number of people registered as asylum seekers in Russia was 315,313. Among these people, only 816 had the status of “refugee”.
See Patchwork Barents’ visualizations of asylum statistics below.