16:58 GMT +312 December 2019
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    Storskog Boris Gleb border crossing between Norway and Russia near the Norwegian town of Kirkenes in the far north of the country

    Angry Norwegians Boil Over 'Anti-Russian' Fence

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    Major Migrant Crisis in Europe (1819)

    Norway is building a fence of steel near the Storskog border station, which is the only border station on the 160-kilometer-long Norwegian-Russian border. Whereas the 3.5-meter-high fence is aimed at stopping a possible influx of refugees, it has sparked outrage among locals.

    Despite the Norwegian authorities' pledges that the steel fence with a price tag of 4 billion NOK (roughly $500,000) will enhance border security and ward off illegal immigrants, it was met with scathing criticism from locals who fear a major setback for the relations with the Eastern neighbor.

    Rune Rafaelsen, chief of the border municipality of Sør-Varanger and former president of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, which aims to promote Norwegian-Russian bilateral projects, is highly critical of the project. According to him, both the people and the business community in Sør-Varanger want better cooperation with Russia, not worse, which is why the border control station in Storskog, currently the only one, should be expanded, instead of building a wall.

    "This is hardly the wisest Norway can do in relation to its neighbor Russia. I cannot see the utility of the fence. On the contrary, it has a bad symbolic value," Rune Rafaelsen wrote in an opinion piece in Norwegian news outlet High North News.

    Rafaelsen was backed by his successor at Barents Secretariat, Lars Georg Fordal, who lambasted Norway's ill-conceived foreign policy in an opinion piece in NRK. According to Fordal, the fence leaves an unpleasant aftertaste of the Cold War, and is highly symbolic.

    "[Anders] Anundsen [Norway's Justice Minister] is now tarnishing Norway's reputation as a nation of peace. The international community will regard Norway as a country that builds barriers rather than bridges," Fordal wrote.

    According to Fordal, the reality of Nordic neighborliness is much better than the fence suggests. In Sør-Varanger, short cross-border trips to Russia to visit the dentist, the hairdresser, car maintenance or to go to the theater or a restaurant have become commonplace. Accordingly, more Russians are doing their shopping in Norway.

    ​Additionally, there has not been a single asylum seeker at the Norwegian-Russian border in recent months. Like Rafaelsen, Fordal advocates the extension of the present border control station in Storskog.

    "Does it really make any sense to spend four million kroner on a four-meter high and 200 meter long fence? No. Listen to those who live near the border. The border was crossed 250,000 times last year. What we need is a new border station to speed up border-crossings. Besides, you can have all sorts of security safeguards built there," Fordal wrote.

    The senselessness of the new fence was also stressed by columnist Thomas Nilsen in Norwegian newspaper Nordlys.

    "Does the minister, the first one to award himself the title ‘preparedness minister,' really believe that a 200-meter fence will stop a desperate refugee? A man who escaped the hell of Aleppo bombings? <…> Obviously, Anundsen should know that such a fence won't stop anyone," Nilsen wrote.

    Nilsen spared no harsh words in his criticism of the fence.

    "Let's just call the fence by its real name. It is a monument to a symbolic policy, based on lack of knowledge, foreign political stupidity and a ridiculous understanding of physical security," Nilsen stressed.

    Last autumn, 5,500 asylum seekers from the Middle East entered Norway via Russia, many of them cycling their way in to bypass the ban on border crossing on foot. Following bilateral agreements and decisive measures on the Russian side, the tide subsided. Although it does not mean that it may not resurge, border police chief Stein Hansen explained to Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

    According to an agreement that Norwegian and Russian authorities signed in 2010, residents in the border area enjoy travel across the border without a visa, an opportunity largely utilized by both inhabitants of Sør-Varanger and Murmansk Region.

    Major Migrant Crisis in Europe (1819)


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    migrant crisis, border fence, Murmansk, Russia, Scandinavia, Norway
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