Foreign Minister Børge Brende announced late Friday afternoon that Norway won’t close its border to Russia, at least not right now. He added, though, that “our country can’t handle” the numbers of asylum seekers crossing the border now.
Nearly 200 asylum seekers have crossed the far northern border every day this week. The sheer numbers of people allowed by Russian authorities to approach the usually restricted border area is overwhelming the small communities of Northern Norway. Authorities are also scrambling to find accommodation for them farther south.
The crisis prompted the government to convene a special expanded meeting of the foreign relations and defense committee of the Parliament Friday afternoon, and speculation kept flying that the border would be closed.
Brende told state broadcaster, however, that “for the time being,” the border would not be closed. “We are working now along all diplomatic channels to find a solution, so that this stream (of asylum seekers) won’t continue at this level,” Brende told NRK. “There have been conversations between (Russian Foreign Minister Sergej) Lavrov and myself, and (deputy foreign minister) Titov, and yesterday there were high-level conversations between Norwegian and Russian authorities.”
Brende confirmed the issue of actually closing the border was up for discussion at the special meeting attended among others by Justice Minister Anders Anundsen and Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide. “When we have a channel tied to quicker return (of rejected refugees) and to stricter controls and diplomatic talks, it’s not so that we have for the time being any plans for closing the border.”
Brende stressed that something must be done, however, to reduce the influx, and Anundsen stressed the seriousness of the situation.
“From the government’s point of view, it’s critical that we manage to exert even stronger pressure on returning people who come over this border without having any demand for residence in Norway,” Anundsen said.