International airline passengers at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen have been plagued by lengthy delays this summer, not only because of cancelled flights but also at passport control. Some travelers have had to wait as long as two hours because of a shortage of the police who work as immigration officers.
Newspaper Aftenposten reported Friday that anyone traveling to destinations outside the European Union’s so-called “Schengen Area” should arrive well in advance of scheduled flight time. The line to enter the departures area for non-Schengen destinations in the UK, US, Turkey or Thailand, for example, has at times been several hundred meters long.
Travelers arriving from airports outside Schengen have also been confronted with long lines after leaving the aircraft, an extra irritant after often long flights. “Folks are having to wait for a long time to get through passport control,” Lars Hegstad, section leader for the border control division at OSL Gardermoen, told Aftenposten. He said departing passengers are often afraid they’ll miss their flights: “They hadn’t expected it would take so long.”
The problem, according to the leaders of the local police district responsible for passport control at Gardermoen, is a shortage of officers. It has 175 on staff at the OSL station but because of summer holidays, illness and temporary workers whose contracts weren’t extended, only 150 are on the job this summer. The Øst Police District claims it needs 225 to handle the rise in passenger traffic at Gardermoen.
“The situation this summer is very challenging,” Bjørn Vandvik, acting regional leader of the Øst Police District, told Aftenposten. “It’s not right that so many people should stand in such long lines, and the situation for our employees is worrisome.” They claim they can’t take breaks and state labour authorities have been summoned to monitor the situation.
Vandvik claims that his calls for more resources have not been answered. “We think that having good police service at Norway’s largest airport is a national responsibility,” he said. “We’re handling several million people every year from all over the world, and have too few people to carry out our work.”
He pointed out that the state is spending NOK 14 billion expanding the airport, to make it able to handle 30 million passengers a year, without increasing staffing for passport control.
Ministries pass on responsibility
Officials at the state transport ministry claimed that responsibility lies with the justice ministry, which is in charge of the state police. Officials at the justice ministry referred calls to the state police directorate, who claimed the Øst Police District had expressed that security at OSL Gardermoen was adequate.
“We see that the staffing situation at Gardermoen is under pressure this summer,” wrote Vidar Refvik, assistant police director, in an email to Aftenposten, “but it’s our impression the employees are doing their best to deliver good service.”
Elin Lien, acting station chief at Gardermoen’s police station, was not satisfied. “We are too few to handle the numbers of passengers,” she told Aftenposten. “When even more are passing through the airport next year, there can be even longer lines.”