Concerns rise over border control

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Alleged understaffing at Norway’s border patrol stations is raising concerns over border control. Members of Parliament, police and officers at the customs agency itself (Tolletaten) are sounding alarms.

The border partrol station here at Svinesund is a main entry point into Norway. Customs officers working here think their ranks are too thin. PHOTO: Tolletaten

“I’m very worried,” Arve Sigmundstad of the Labour Party told news bureau NTB. He claims that customs agency employees have contacted him, since he represents the Østfold district south and east of Oslo that’s home to the country’s largest border patrol stations at Svinesund and Ørje.

“They’re telling me about a lack of resources, budget cuts that lead to cuts in staffing in the evenings, nighttime and holidays, and cuts in overtime,” Sigmundstad said. He fears the cuts in staffing can make it easier for “suspicious objects” to enter the country and allow a rise in smuggling.

Customs officer recently have been able to report some record-large seizures at the border, but worry that major campaigns aimed at halting large criminal organizations that engage in smuggling have either lost priority or been dropped because they’re expensive to fund over the time they take.

Fredrik Støtvig, leader of the labour federation representing customs officers (Tollerforbund) confirmed the concerns. “We are irresponsibly thin in our ranks, and that affects security,” Støtvig told NTB.

Norway’s conservative government coalition, which has stressed border control and further tightened the country’s already strict immigration regulations, promised in 2016 to boost staffing at local border patrol stations by another 120 positions. Støtvig claims only three new positions had been added as of last summer.

“We charted staffing and now the situation is worse,” he claimed, given warnings of a 3 percent cut in development projects. Police are also worried that any cuts can open Norway up to more illegal imports of narcotics and human trafficking.

The customs agency is part of the Finance Ministry in Norway, which maintains that staffing levels are defensible. “We believe we have a good customs agency with many committed and professional customs officers,” said Finance Minister Siv Jensen. “Further development of the customs agency, however, must be weighed against all other goals in the state budget process.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund