Conflicts collide in passport queues

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Hapless visitors to Norway and returning residents have become pawns in a conflict that’s reached the boiling point amongst police officers, their superiors and top political officials. At issue are funding and human resources for border patrol at Norway’s gateway airport, where arriving passengers have been facing excessively long waits for passport control. There were even threats that passport control would be closed some days this week, which would force many flights to be diverted to other airports.

It's still crowded at OSL Gardermoen's passport conotrol when hundreds of airline passengers disembark at once, but the situation was better this week than last after border police got 14 new colleagues. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It’s still crowded at OSL Gardermoen’s passport conotrol when hundreds of airline passengers disembark at once, but the situation was better this week after border police got 14 new colleagues. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

No closure occurred on Thursday, but there were long queues over the weekend, when thousands of people landing at OSL Gardermoen got caught in hours-long delays at passport control. Police officers claim not enough funding or consideration has been granted to handle the ever-growing crowds at the airport, which also is in the midst of major expansion.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen, who has political leadership of Norway’s state police, harshly criticized the police chief of the region where OSL Gardermoen is located over the weekend, and told state broadcaster NRK that 14 more officers would be assigned to OSL to help handle the crowds.

Now Anundsen himself is being harshly criticized, with even some university professors of management claiming that Anundsen owes the local police chief, Jon Steven Hasseldal, an apology. It was Hasseldal who actually was behind the increased staffing, after he shifted around personnel to redistribute resources. Hasseldal had already criticized state authorities over the staff shortage.

“You can’t lay big plans and have great expectations (for the airport expansion) when the resources aren’t there to back it,” Hasseldal told NRK. “This is a politial issue that must be raised.” Given the long lines of late, Hasseldal worries the situation for border patrol at the airport is already precarious, and will get worse when the expanded airport opens next spring.

That ended up winning support from the rank and file who’d been complaining the most about long shifts on the front line, while state police director Odd Reidar Humlegård seems caught in the middle between supporting his police chiefs and the justice minister. He confirmed that Hasseldal had been “working intensely in the back rooms to find a solution.” The 14 “new” positions, Humlegård told NRK, came from within Hasseldal’s own ranks.

“There have perhaps been some misunderstandings here,” Humlegård said. “The police chief redistributed his positions to strengthen border patrol immediately. I think that’s good, and necessary.”

Anundsen still claims a solution was found after his ministry took up the problem at OSL Gardermoen, stressing that the solution had to come without extra funding. “There has never been talk of extra funding from the ministry,” Anundsen told NRK.

Passport control flowed better on Tuesday, both for departing passengers and arriving, although there’s still a rush when hundreds of passengers land at the same time. “I think there’s been good dialog,” Humlegård told NRK. “We can’t accept the long waiting time we’ve had at passport control.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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