Syrian refugees find Arctic route towards western Europe
While thousands of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and other countries reach Europe by boat from Turkey or Libya, where hundreds die, a new route is slowly gaining popularity. Refugees from Syria find their way up via Russia to the Arctic, where they cross the border into Norway.
Some 20 migrants per day cross the border between Russia and Norway at Storskog near Kirkenes.
At two hours from the Russian city of Murmansk, It is the only legal border crossing between the two countries.
The online newspaper thelocal.no reports that so far this year, 133 asylum seekers have entered Norway though Storskog.
“Since July and August more people are crossing,” Garan Stenseth, the chief police superintendent of the Storskog frontier post, told RFI in a phone interview.
“They seem to be healthy and happy to be in de Schengen area and in Norway, but it is difficult to compare since this is a new situation for us because and we don’t have any experience from previous years,” he says.
According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, measures in other parts of Europe may have a direct effect on the refugees’ decision to take the Arctic route.
“With the fences being built in Hungary, we may see more refugees seeking an alternative way into central and western Europe,” says Paul Nesse, a senior advisor to the NRC.
He thinks that the journey is less dangerous than the one taken by many asylum seekers who cross the Mediterranean by boat and risk drowning.
“So far those we have registered have come by plane to Moscow, and then over land by train or bus to Murmansk. Then it is a very short distance to the Norwegian border. So as such, this is not a dangerous route. But it does require that you have enough money, to get a ticket to get up to Russia,” he says.
Some of the refugees go on to other countries, but many of them may opt to stay in Norway.
“It requires some adaptation for many. What we do see is that for most people, once they get used to the differences and get acquainted with the language, it actually goes fairly well,” says Nesse.
In the past, Tamil refugees who fled the violence in Sri Lanka in the last decade chose to settle in Norwegian towns with often forbidding winter temperatures, working in the fishing industry.
Given the relatively small numbers of Syrians, it is unknown if many Syrians will remain in the colder regions of Norway.
But as the numbers of refugees are increasing by the day, there may be a moment that there is no other choice.