The Norwegian government is responding to calls for help from Moldova, which is struggling to care for the thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian bombs. Special flights will be set up to bring 5,250 Ukrainian refugees to Norway and to Norwegian hospitals.
Norway will be joining other European countries in mounting organized, state-funded efforts to help relieve countries bordering on Ukraine that already have taken in millions of refugees. Those already in Norway have come on their own, or been picked up by relatives, private organizations or individual simply wanting to help. Now Norway will actually organize transport to Norway from Ukraine’s neighbouring Moldova.
Both Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl stressed at a press conference Thursday that Moldova is the first country bordering on Ukraine that actually had asked Norway for help. More calls may come from Slovakia, after it announced on Thursday that it can’t take in any more than the roughly 250,000 refugees who have arrived so far.
Medical evacuation, too
Norway will first fly 2,500 people from Moldova, plus offer medical evacuation of patients and close family members. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) had offered on Wednesday to fly Ukrainian refugees to Norway if the government asked for help. SAS also has a special Boeing 737 equipped as a hospital flight (AirEvac jeg) that it can make available on short notice to carry refugees in need of medical treatment. It’s equipped with beds and technical equipment and was used, for example, in 2013 after badly injured Norwegians needed to be flown home after a terrorist attack at a Norwegian-operated gas plant at In Amenas in Algeria.
SAS halted its weekly flights between Oslo and Kiev the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine. SAS won’t fly into Ukraine now but can offer an air bridge of sorts. Now the Norwegian government will pick up the bill for that.
“Moldova has asked for help to handle the stream of refugees, and Norway is responding,” Støre said. “In addition we’ll take responsibility for some of the most vulnerable refugees that this terrible war has created. It’s importnat that Norway, like other European countries, contributes to organized European programs to help those fleeing the war.”
Mehl has discouraged individual Norwegians from, for example, driving buses to border crossings in, for example, Poland, Slovakia and Romania to pick up refugees and bring them back to Norway.
“It’s fine that many people want to help, but we need to do this through organized programs,” Mehl said. “I’m asking that they all help in other ways than organizing transport to Norway.” She has stressed that it’s important to retain control over the refugee influx.