A group of intrepid Syrian migrants have found a new, albeit long, way into Europe — through Russia and into Norway’s Arctic, some of them cycling across the border.
Refugees fleeing the war-torn country have either flown to Moscow before travelling north to Norway, according to Hans Mollebakken, the police chief in the Arctic town of Kirkenes, who said some may have also spent some time in Russia.
“About 150 people have crossed the border so far this year, mostly Syrians,” he told AFP Monday.
“The numbers have really taken off this year.”
Because the border is closed to pedestrians, some have cleverly found a loophole in the law by biking into Norway.
The Kirkenes police have seized around 20 bikes, and issued fines up to 6,000 Norwegian kroner (around 650 euros or $800) to Russians and Norwegians who have driven migrants over the border for a fee.
Asylum seekers are immediately transported to Oslo where they are registered for processing.
In 2014, only around a dozen asylum seekers crossed the border from Russia to Norway, in a region where winter temperatures can average minus 15 degrees Celsius.
According to Norwegian immigration authorities, just under 1,000 Syrians have sought asylum in the Scandinavian country since the beginning of the year.
In the EU, neighbouring Sweden recorded the next biggest number of asylum applications in 2014 — 13 percent, although as a proportion in relation to its population size, the country is shouldering the biggest burden in the bloc.
In 2015 more than 300,000 refugees fleeing poverty and conflict in their homeland have crossed the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe. More than 2,500 died during their crossing, according to an official count published on Friday by the UN refugee agency.