Police in Northern Norway have confirmed that many of the Syrian refugees streaming over the Norwegian-Russian border hold legal residence permission in Russia and have lived there for several years. That sharply reduces their chances of winning asylum in Norway.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that so many refugees have crossed the border at Storskog, just east of Kirkenes in Finnmark County, that police charged with registering them have set up more tents outside the border station to shelter them during the registration process. Norway’s immigration agency UDI estimates around 500 refugees have entered the country in the far north so far this year.
The vast majority are from Syria but far from all of have fled directly from the war-torn country. Police have discovered that many traveled to Russia as long as five to seven years ago, even before the civil war broke out.
“We’re seeing a tendency that those coming over the border at Storskog have had residence permission in other countries than Syria,” Tor Espen Haga of UDI’s police administrative arm, Politiets utlendingsenhet, told NRK.
One refugee, who asked not to be identified, confirmed to NRK that he had lived for several years in Russia and held both a work and student visa. A lack of jobs and “difficult conditions” in Russia, however, prompted him to seek a better life in Norway. He also claimed that refugees in Russia are viewed as “second-class citizens.”
“Russia doesn’t help us at all,” added another Syrian refugee who lacked a Russian job visa. “If you try to work and get caught, they’ll throw you in jail. You can stay in Russia, but you’re not allowed to do anything,” he told NRK. That’s why he also opted to seek asylum in Norway.
But Norwegian officials are strict about only granting asylum to those needing protection, not those seeking better lives in Norway. If Russia granted the refugees protection in the form of residence permits, it’s likely they’ll be sent back to Russia. Those lacking residence permission in Russia have a better chance of winning asylum.
Frode Forfang, chief of Norway’s immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet), told foreign correspondents in Oslo last month when elaborating on the current refugee crisis that UDI believes the Syrians initially fled their homeland by flying to Moscow. From there they’ve traveled north to Murmansk and then on to the Norwegian border.
Haga said all asylum seekers’ applications will be handled individually. Their sheer numbers continue to pose a major challenge to overburdened authorities caught by surprise over the refugee influx. UDI and the police planned to send more staff to the Kirkenes area and process the refugees’ applications where they are, instead of bringing them south to Oslo.