From Russia, on bikes: Migrants' unlikely Arctic route to Norway
Matti Huuhtanen, The Associated Press
Published Monday, August 31, 2015 9:11AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, August 31, 2015 12:31PM EDT
HELSINKI -- As Europe grapples with record-breaking numbers of migrants, a trickle of asylum seekers from Syria and the Mediterranean region have found an unlikely route: Through Russia to a remote Arctic border post in Norway, partly on bicycles.
Police Chief Inspector Goeran Stenseth said Monday that 151 people have crossed the border this year near the northeastern Norwegian town of Kirkenes, 2,500 kilometres northeast of Oslo.
He said that most of the migrants are from Syria, with some from Turkey and Ukraine, and that they mainly cross in motor vehicles although some have resorted to arriving on bicycles because the Storskog border post is not open to pedestrians, in line with a Norwegian-Russian border agreement.
"There have been about 100 during the past two months, at least 50 in July and looks like August will be much the same," he told The Associated Press. "But the conditions will be bad soon. It's getting colder by the day ... Soon no one will be able to bike, that's for sure."
Russians often drive the asylum seekers over the border, raising the possibility that the route has been organized and could possibly be classed as human trafficking.
"It's too early to say, but we are continuing to look into it and will talk to the Russian border officials about it too," he said.
Immigration officials in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, said they had no information about asylum seekers arriving in Norway from the Arctic, and the Foreign Ministry didn't return calls.
Officials in neighbouring Finland, which shares the longest EU border with Russia, say they haven't seen similar movements of migrants at any of the eight border crossings along the 1,300-kilometre border.
"It really is only a handful a year, if that," said Ilkka Herranen from the Finnish Border Guard. "Most of the migrants and asylum seekers arrive here from Sweden."