New refugee record at Russian border

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As politicians in Oslo kept debating Monday over how to deal with the refugee influx, officials are struggling to control the numbers of people still trying to cross the border between Norway and Russia. Immigration officials warned over the weekend, meanwhile, that Afghan refugees entering from Russia risk being sent back to Kabul.

The so-called “Arctic Route” remains open despite Norwegian officials’ desperate efforts to reduce refugee crossings at Storskog, just east of Kirkenes. Another record number of asylum seekers crossed over the border into Norway during the weekend, with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reporting that Haugesund on the southwest coast was told to prepare for another 170 arriving refugees. Since asylum centers in Northern Norway are full and unable to take in more people, those crossing the border from Russia are being flown south.

Russia letting them through
The ongoing influx comes despite reports late last week that Russian officials finally were restricting access to the border area for all those lacking a visa to the so-called “Schengen area” of Europe, where internal borders are largely open. Norway is part of the Schengen area and complained through diplomatic channels that Russia was allowing refugees to head for the Norwegian border while restricting them from crossing into Finland.

Ellen Katrine Hætta, police chief in Norway’s eastern Finnmark County, said she doubted Russian practice had changed. The only reason some refugees may have been turned back at the Titovka checkpoint in Russia, she told news bureau NTB, was because Russian border patrols also have capacity problems in processing those heading for Norway.

It’s no longer only Syrian and Afghan refugees taking the Arctic Route to Norway. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that people from more than 30 nations have now tried to get into Norway over the Russian border. They include people from Tunisia, Ukraine, Yemen, Turkey, Sudan, the Philippines, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Russia itself. Fully 68 percent of those crossing into Norway come from countries other than Syria, with the largest segment now coming from Afghanistan.

Scare tactics
Norwegian officials are clearly trying to scare them from even trying, announcing over the weekend that adults from Afghanistan who have used the Arctic Route and are found to not have a need for protection risk being sent to Kabul, not just back to Russia.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen announced earlier this month that those arriving in Norway with valid residence permission in Russia would be denied asylum and sent back to Russia. Russia, however, has since responded by expelling many of those passing the checkpoints leading up to the border crossing. Norway is thus forced to receive them.

Aftenposten reported that others continue to head for Norway because of fears their Russian residence permits will be cancelled and they’ll risk being sent back to the countries they fled. For them, it’s urgent to cross into Norway while they still have valid Russian permits, as they pursue their quest for a better life.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund