The Norwegian government is cracking down on the stream of refugees entering the country over its far northern border to Russia. Many have been living in Russia for years, and now they’ll be turned away without their asylum applications even being processed.
Foreign Minister Børge Brende, in Finland on Thursday for a meeting with his counterparts from other member countries of the Barents Council, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he has asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov to account for the sudden and major increase in refugees crossing from Russia into Norway in recent months.
“I asked why hundreds of asylum seekers were coming from Russia to Norway over (the border at) Storskog, when there weren’t any asylum seekers coming from Russia to Finland,” Brende told NRK. “And Lavrov said he would look into it.”
Officials at state immigration agency UDI have already reported how many of the Syrian refugees entering Norway at Storskog, just east of Kirkenes, have traveled through Russia. Their documents often show they’ve been living in Russia, as long as 12 years in some cases. Then they have no right to demand protection in Norway.
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen told NRK that he suspects the new influx of refugees is organized. Last year, only 20 people crossing the border sought asylum. This year, around 1,200 have already arrived and filed asylum applications, setting off an emergency situation as officials scramble to register and house them. Nearly 400 refugees arrived just last week, and all local reception centers are full.
Anundsen told NRK on Wednesday that his ministry intends to instruct UDI that refugees coming over the border from Russia shall be returned without their applications being processed. “These people are not in need of protection, they are safe in Russia,” Anundsen said. “We need to use our resources on those who really are in need.”
Brende agreed. “We need to examine their visas issued in Russia,” he told NRK. “If they’ve lived in Russia for a long time, they have no demand for protection in Norway.” The new crackdown that can reject refugees at the border may begin as early as next week, Anundsen said.